At some point in your life, you’ve probably been told that cell phones cause cancer, that cancer is contagious, or that your hair doesn’t grow back after chemotherapy. The good news is that none of this is true. However, the bad news (for some of you) is that if anybody has ever told you that men or women with small boobs can’t get breast cancer, it’s not true either (though it is true that men are far less likely to get breast cancer than women).
Don’t let that information send you into a spin; just because you can get cancer if you have small boobs certainly doesn’t mean you will get it, and even if you do get it, it’s one of the most curable types.
Size Doesn’t Matter!
The reason that the size of your boobs doesn’t matter when it comes to developing breast cancer is that most breast cancers develop in the glands (called lobules) that produce milk or in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple (yes, men do have a small amount of these types of breast tissue). The size of your breasts is determined by the amount of fatty or fibrous tissue that you have, and it is not correlated with the number of lobules or ducts that you have.
While size doesn’t matter, density does. Denser breasts have a higher proportion of glandular and fibrous tissue, while less dense breasts have a higher proportion of fatty tissue. The higher your breast density, the higher your risk of developing breast cancer. While a mammogram will pick up most cases of cancer, it’s harder with denser breasts, so additional screening (in the form of MRIs or Fast MRIs) is recommended for people who are at high risk.
One of the keys to curing breast cancer is early detection. In the United States, the 5-year survival rate for non-metastatic (i.e. it hasn’t spread to other parts of your body) invasive breast cancer is 90%. In South Africa, that number drops to 40%. Part of the reason for this massive differential is that women in South Africa are more likely to be diagnosed when their cancer is more advanced.
- Swelling or a lump in your breast, under your armpit, or around your collarbone
- A sudden change in the size or shape of your breast
- A newly inverted nipple
- Peeling, scaling, crusting, flaking, or dimpling of the pigmented area of skin surrounding your nipple (areola) or breast skin
- Nipple discharge
- Anything abnormal for YOU.
Risk Factors and What You Can Do About Them
Along with breast density and being a woman, there are a few other risk factors for breast cancer that are worth taking note of, including a family history of breast cancer, inherited genes (e.g. BRCA1 and BRCA2), radiation exposure, lifestyle choices, and having your first child over the age of 30.
Although age is also a risk factor for breast cancer, and women are only recommended to start going for annual screenings from the age of 40, approximately “11% of breast cancers occur in women younger than 45.”
There’s not much you can do about your family history and your genes, but you can reduce your chances of developing breast cancer by living a healthy, balanced lifestyle: exercise regularly, don’t drink too much alcohol, eat more vegetables, and don’t smoke!
No matter whether you have boobs or pecs, whether you are a D-cup or a 28AA, whether your boobs are real or fake, whether you are in your 20s or in your 60s, check yourself regularly! And if you notice anything unusual, go see a doctor as soon as you can.