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You are surfing the Internet one day and find a warning that tampons—and even worse, your favorite antiperspirant—contain various toxins and have been implicated as a cause of cancer. Although overstated and generally incorrect, this misinformation is benign compared with some of the myths that have historically surrounded women's bodies and health.

Although women know more than ever about their health, experts point out that myths can be especially dangerous if they prevent women, and even the medical community, from addressing true health risks. Below are a few such myths.

Myth: Breast cancer is the leading cause of death among women.

Fact: Women fear breast cancer more, but the truth is, nearly a quarter of deaths in American women is caused by heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. More women die each year from cardiovascular disease than from all cancers combined.

Men have higher risk of heart disease over all, but women's risk increases dramatically after menopause. It is important to know that some signs of heart attack in women can be different, such as long-term fatigue, nausea, or flu-like symptoms.

The good news is you do not have to wait until menopause to take steps to help you prevent heart disease.

Myth: Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths.

Fact:Lung cancer kills far more women annually than breast cancer.

Smoking causes over 80% of lung cancer deaths in women. One of the best things you can do to prevent lung cancer it is to not start smoking. If you do smoke, find out the most effective ways you can quit. Quitting has immediate benefits to your body.

Myth: Getting hit in the breast can cause breast cancer.

Fact: Emphatically NO! This old myth persists because occasionally an injury, such as from sports, will cause a benign lump in the breast, which usually disappears in a few weeks. Another reason may be that an injury leads to the discovery of a lump has been there for a long time, but was not noticed. There is no need to be alarmed. You can still play sports because exercise is so important to overall health.

Myth: Prevention of osteoporosis begins with menopause.

Fact: While the loss of bone mass that affects nearly half of women typically begins after menopause, prevention begins much earlier with health habits that promote bone strength. The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) advocates a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, cautions against smoking and excessive use of alcohol. Girls ages 9-18 are in their critical bone-building years. This is an important time to eat a diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin D and to do lots of physical activity.

Walking, dancing, playing tennis, and lifting weights are considered weight-bearing exercises. Swimming and bicycling, which are excellent for cardiovascular health, do not strengthen bones. An exercise program that combines both weight-bearing and cardiovascular activities will benefit both your bones and your heart.

Myth: A nursing mother cannot get pregnant.

Fact: The truth is that breastfeeding will only delay ovulation. However, although a nursing mother does not ovulate in the early months of breastfeeding, she may ovulate in later months. Each woman will resume ovulation at a different time, so it is important to use birth control if you do not wish to become pregnant. Talk to your doctor about birth control options you can use while breastfeeding, and when they need to be started.

Myth: Treatments tested on men are appropriate for women.

Fact: We do not know. Recognizing the gaps in what is known about women's health issues, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) established the Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH) in 1990. This group has worked to find those gaps and to assure inclusion of women and minorities in clinical studies funded by the various institutes and centers that make up the NIH.

Myth: A "fishy" vaginal odor is normal.

Fact: The odor may be the result of bacterial vaginitis (BV), a condition more common and more serious than yeast infections.

If untreated, BV can lead to infertility or pregnancy complications, including pre-term birth. Symptoms of BV include a discharge, fishy odor and perhaps itching, which women often mistake for a yeast infection. If you have symptoms of what you think may be a yeast infection, it is still important to get it checked out. Antibiotics are necessary to effectively treat BV.

Myth: You can get a sexually transmitted disease (STD) from toilet seats.

Fact:STDs are transmitted through sexual contact. This means skin-to-skin contact or exchange of bodily fluids. Keep in mind that most organisms that cause STDs cannot survive outside the body for too long. Even on the small chance a microbe survived, a woman would have to make genital contact with the toilet seat to get infected.

What about the tampon and antiperspirant rumors?

Do antiperspirants prevent the release of toxins that can back up and cause breast cancer? All the leading breast cancer organizations, including the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, refute this myth, pointing out that sweat does not even contain toxins and that sweat blocked by antiperspirants is excreted elsewhere.

You may read the leading tampons contain dioxin, a known carcinogen, and therefore you should use all-natural tampons. Dioxins that are used are at or below trace levels and are not considered a health hazard. Also dioxin is found in trace amounts in the environment where the tampons are manufactured.

When you get messages from the Internet, email, or your best friend, it is important to take a step back and do some research. There are dozens of reputable websites that can help point you in the right direction.

RESOURCES:

American Heart Association
http://www.heart.org

National Osteoporosis Foundation
http://www.nof.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
http://www.sogc.org

Women's Health Matters
http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca

References:

Bacterial vaginosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated July 9, 2013. Accessed October 31, 2013.

Breast cancer myths: Separating fact from fiction. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/expertvoices/post/2011/10/24/breast-cancer-myths-separating-fact-from-fiction.aspx. Updated October 24, 2011. Accesseed October 31, 2013.

Breastfeeding. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated October 3, 2013. Accessed October 31, 2013.

Debunking the myths. National Osteoporosis Foundation website. Available at: http://nof.org/articles/4. Accessed October 31, 2013.

Do plastics, body care products or deodorant play a role in breast cancer risk? (April 2010). Susan G. Komen for the Cure website. Available at: http://ww5.komen.org/ContentSimpleLeft.aspx?id=6442451903. Updated April 2010. Accessed October 31, 2013.

Heart disease fact sheet. Office on Women's Health website. Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/heart-disease.cfm. Updated February 2, 2009. Accessed October 31, 2013.

Heart attack symptoms in women. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Heart-Attack-Symptoms-in-Women_UCM_436448_Article.jsp. Updated October 1, 2013. Accessed October 31, 2013.

Lung cancer fact sheet. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/lung-cancer/resources/facts-figures/lung-cancer-fact-sheet.html. Accessed October 31, 2013.

Osteoporosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated October 24, 2013. Accessed October 31, 2013.

What is women's health research? Office of Research on Women's Health website. Available at: http://orwh.od.nih.gov/about/womenshealthresearch.asp. Updated May 13, 2013. Accessed October 31, 2013.



Last reviewed October 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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