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5 common myths about cancer in women


True or false:

  • “I have no family history of cancer, so regular screening tests aren’t necessary.”
  • “Halleluiah, no more pap smears since I got the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine!”
  • “There’s nothing I can do to prevent cancer -- it just happens.”

All are false. If you answered incorrectly, chances are, you aren’t alone. With all of the conflicting information that exists today about cancer -- what causes it, who is most at risk of developing it, and what things can be done to beat it -- it’s hard to determine fact from falsehood.

Thankfully, Carol Sawmiller, MD, a general surgeon and Heather Pulaski, MD, a gynecological oncologist, both with Kettering Physician Network, are here to help debunk some common myths when it comes to cancer in women.

Myth #1: Your family history is the most important risk factor for cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, only about 5-10 percent of all cancers are the result of a gene defect (mutation) inherited from a parent.

“While family history is important, many other factors put people at increased risk for cancer. For women with breast cancer, only about eight percent have the hereditary type, with a mutation in one of the genes known to be associated with breast cancer, like BRCA1, BRCA2,” explained Dr. Sawmiller. 

Myth #2: Women who get the Gardasil vaccine don’t need to get annual gynecological exams anymore.

“Gardasil actually protects against four types of HPV which cause genital warts and more than 80 percent of cervical cancers. The newer vaccine Gardasil 9 adds five additional high-risk types, which will hopefully eliminate about 90 percent of anal and cervical cancers, as well as 80-90 percent of genital warts,” said Dr. Pulaski.

However, Dr. Pulaski advises women who have had any HPV vaccine to continue following up with their gynecologists for routine screening, as there are more than 40 known types of HPV. In addition, long-term data about cancer prevention from the vaccines is not yet confirmed.

Myth #3: There’s nothing you can do to prevent cancer - it just happens

“The most important way to cut your risk of cancer is to work toward maintaining a healthy weight, incorporate exercise into your daily routine, filling your diet with healthy fruits and vegetables, and avoiding processed meat products,” said Dr. Sawmiller.

In addition, the American Cancer Society advises getting regular cancer screenings, avoiding tobacco, wearing sunscreen when outdoors, and limiting alcohol intake.

Myth #4: Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer

A 2002 study by the National Cancer Institute found no link between antiperspirants/deodorants and breast cancer.

“Some people believed that clogging the pores of the skin and the lymphatics could lead to a pressure build-up, resulting in possible development of breast cancer. However, breast cancer occurs when the DNA within the breast cell develops a mutation, and the mechanisms to repair that damage fail. This process is not associated with clogged pores or clogged lymph channels,” explained Dr. Sawmiller.

Myth #5: A woman’s cancer risk comes from her mother, and a man’s is from his father

Everyone receives genes from both their mother and their father, so cancer risk comes from both parents, whether you are male or female. Knowing the cancer history on both sides of your family is important.

Learn more about women’s health and cancer prevention from Drs. Sawmiller and Pulaski live and in person at Kettering Health Network’s Women’s Wellness Day.

Celebrating women’s wellness

As part of their ongoing commitment to women’s wellness, Kettering Health Network is hosting a Women’s Wellness Day on May 7 from 12-4 p.m. at the Kettering Cancer Center , located on the campus of Kettering Medical Center. Designed to empower and educate on all things women’s health, this free event will feature a health fair, Q&A with physicians, cooking demos, food trucks, tours of the new Kettering Cancer Center and much more.

In addition, there will be a Walk for Women’s Wellness benefiting Kettering Medical Center Foundation’s Women’s Wellness Fund, which helps underserved women in the Dayton area receive lifesaving breast cancer screenings and services.

Click here to register for the Women’s Wellness Day event.