3.2 min readPublished On: April 1, 2024

Breast Health: Separating Fact from Fiction

Knowing everything there is to know about your body can be a woman’s lifelong quest. For now, consider just one aspect of your physiology – your breasts. Throughout your lifetime, your breasts will be an intimate part of your development, your identity and your capacity to nurture and comfort. Yet, you may not feel comfortable in your knowledge of breast health.

We talked to breast health expert Dr. Chand Rohatgi, a breast surgeon with UF Health Medical Group Surgical Specialists in The Villages, about some breast health myths. Here’s what he told us.

Myth: Nipple discharge and breast pain are signs of serious illness.

Dr. Rohatgi: Nipple discharge and breast pain can both be uncomfortable and alarming, but in the far majority of cases, neither one is associated with breast cancer. Several benign conditions, from infection to injury, can cause nipple discharge. If the discharge is clear or bloody, or associated with a lump, you should see your doctor just to be sure. In most cases, breast pain will respond to at-home remedies, such as over-the-counter pain relief creams like those marketed for arthritis or muscle pain. You could also try vitamin E or evening primrose oil supplements. If the pain persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, you should see your doctor.

Myth: Wearing a bra is necessary for good breast health, but underwire bras can cause breast cancer.

Dr. Rohatgi: For the most part, a bra is a fashion accessory with no medical value at all. Wearing an underwire bra may become painful, but they have never been causally linked to breast cancer. If you have heavy breasts, a support bra with wide, padded shoulder straps and a wider band at the bottom can help relieve neck and back pain. If this doesn’t work, you may be a candidate for breast reduction surgery to relieve your pain and protect your spine health.

Myth: There is no point in being tested for breast cancer because I could never afford cancer treatment.

Dr. Rohatgi: Actually, it’s fiscally responsible to get your regular breast cancer screenings. Screening mammograms are free through Medicaid, Medicare and all insurance companies. If you have breast cancer, early detection will give you the best possible outcome and most likely require the least amount of treatment, keeping the cost down. 

Myth: Having a mastectomy would change who I am as a woman.

Dr. Rohatgi: If you have breast cancer, a mastectomy may not always be needed. In most cases, the preferred treatment is a lumpectomy, which removes the cancer and conserves as much healthy breast tissue as possible. According to recent evidence, conserving breast tissue may lead to better outcomes. There is certainly a psychological element to any type of breast surgery that cannot be ignored. Most women, however, lead normal, healthy lives even after a mastectomy.

Myth: Breastfeeding puts me at greater risk for breast cancer.

Dr. Rohatgi: One important risk factor for breast cancer is cycling estrogen. Your body cycles estrogen during the years when you are menstruating. While you are pregnant or breastfeeding, the cycling stops. The more cycling estrogen your body was exposed to, the greater your risk of breast cancer. Breastfeeding reduces your exposure to cycling estrogen, actually reducing your risk for breast cancer. Your exposure to estrogen is a risk factor you cannot change. I encourage you to focus on the risks you can change.

About the Author: Roxanne Brown

Roxanne Brown

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