Does the pill give you breast cancer? And other commonly asked questions

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor
Some 62,000 women develop breast cancer every year in the UK.[Photo: Getty]

Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in the UK, with around 62,000 people diagnosed every single year in the UK.

More than 5,000 women – and men – will be diagnosed with the disease this month alone.

Most of us know someone who had been affected by this devastating disease. Every year the month of October – also known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month – is dedicated to educating people across the nation.

That’s why Yahoo UK Style spoke to Jane Murphy, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, to answer some of the most commonly asked questions. 

Will taking the pill cause breast cancer?

Murphy says: “Some studies have shown that taking the oral contraceptive pill slightly increases the risk of developing breast cancer.”

Some 3.5 million women in the UK take the contraceptive pill, so it’s understandable this increased risk is a cause for concern.

However, it only lasts as long as you are taking the contraceptive pill, explains Murphy. “Your risk reduces when you stop taking it and, after five to 10 years of being off the pill, overall risk of the disease is about the same as it would have been if you had never taken it.”

What other factors cause breast cancer?

Sadly, there is no easy answer for this one.

Breast cancer is an incredibly complex disease, so it remains difficult to isolate any one factor as a definite cause. What we do know is the greatest risk factors are being a woman and getting older,” she says. 

While you can’t control either of these factors, there are some lifestyle chances to reduce your risk of breast cancer“Keeping a healthy balanced weight and limiting the amount of alcohol can have a part to play in reducing the risk. Knowing all the signs and symptoms can help save lives,” Murphy explains. 

It is important to check your breasts regularly for signs of cancer. [Photo: Getty]

How do you check your breasts for cancer?

Most of us know to check our breasts for lumps, but this isn’t the only sign of breast cancer.

Others include a change in breast size or shape, an area which feels thicker than the rest, or a change in skin texture (look out for an “orange skin” texture). Remember to check your armpit and collarbone also, says Murphy.

Does having larger breasts mean you are more likely to get it?

This is a complicated one – as it’s not your breast size, but in fact your breast density (us neither) which increases cancer risk.

Murphy explains: “Breast size does not affect the risk of breast cancer. However, women with dense breasts have a higher risk of developing the disease. Breasts are described as being dense if they have less fatty tissue and more glandular and fibrous tissue.”

How about wearing an underwired bra?

Some of us like to wear comfy cloth bras, while others prefer the support of a wired cup. The good news is, you can wear whatever you want, according to Murphy.

She says: “Women call our helpline every day concerned about how to reduce their risk of breast cancer.

“But while there have been some concerns that wires in the cup of a bra may restrict the flow of lymph fluid in the breast causing toxins to build up in the area, there’s no reliable evidence to support this. So if they choose, women can continue to wear underwired bras.”

If you breastfeed, does this mean you are less likely to get cancer?

As a mother, the decision of whether or not to breastfeed is a personal choice. But will it increase your cancer risk if you don’t do it?

No, says Murphy. “Though research shows that breastfeeding can slightly decrease your risk of getting breast cancer, your risk does not increase if you don’t breast feed.”

Can men get breast cancer?

While 99% of cases are in women, approximately 370 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

Murphy advises men to look out for symptoms like a lump, swelling or nipple discharge, adding: “Men can feel embarrassed about discussing their diagnosis with others, as the common misconception is only women get breast cancer, so it’s vital they get the support and information they need.”

For care, support and information call Breast Cancer Care’s free Helpline on 0808 800 6000 or visit www.breastcancercare.org.uk. 

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