Here’s a recent news story which caught our attention: a Mexican woman who reported a lump in her breast and reported it to her doctor, who told her that not only was she ‘too young’ to contract breast cancer (at 27!), but her breasts were also too small.
The former is clearly nonsense, but the latter is an incredibly dangerous assumption. Sure enough, she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years later, and underwent a double mastectomy.
We like to think that our own healthcare system is considerably more enlightened, but the idea that larger breast size = larger risk of breast cancer has been reported in the media. So let’s look at it in further detail.
When scientific reports become news headlines
The main source in this way of thinking about breast cancer and breast size stems from a study conducted in 2012 by an American genetics company which examined the DNA of over 16,000 women. The study was actually focussed upon the genetic factors underlying breast development, and sought to identify specific gene variations which were associated with breast size. And of the seven variants they discovered, three were also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
The study went to great pains to point out that these three variations do not automatically translate into increased rates of breast cancer: as we all know, breast cancer is a very complex ailment with a plethora of factors involved. But that doesn’t make for a good newspaper headline, so when the mainstream media jumped upon the study, it got boiled down to something like this. Which wasn’t the intention at all.
Is there a link between breast cancer and breast size?
On the surface, this opinion has an element of common sense about it: if you’ve got more tissue in a certain area, you’d assume that there would be a greater risk of developing cancer there. But there are multiple factors that we know for a scientific fact can increase the risk of breast cancer, including ethnicity, age, family history, oestrogen levels, whether a woman has been through the menopause or not, breastfeeding factors, general body health and lifestyle factors.
And thus far, there is no clear link between larger cup size and increased risk of breast cancer, and the idea that women with smaller breasts or ‘flat-chested’ women are at a reduced or zero risk of contracting breast cancer is completely wrong. If you have breast tissue – and you do, whatever cup size you take – the possibility of contracting breast cancer is there.
The moral of the story? No matter what your cup size, you need to keep tabs on your breasts. If you’re over 50, ensure you’re getting screened for breast cancer – and if you’re under 50 and you feel you may be contracting the symptoms of breast cancer or just want to be reassured, don’t hesitate to visit your GP at the first opportunity.