Cancer, no one ever wants to hear that word! It’s one of the most frightening words a person can ever hear. In fact I think most people would agree with me that when they hear the word cancer they immediately think death. And let’s face it: all of us probably know someone with cancer. Maybe it’s your friend, family member, or it could even be you.
October is breast cancer awareness month, which I think is such a wonderful thing. It’s so important for us as a society to come together and continue to educate our fellow brothers and sisters on cancer. Knowledge is power. The more we know and can learn about cancer the more empowered we can be to fight the disease and to offer support to those that are in the battle. And that’s really what cancer is; it’s a battle in every true sense of the word.
But, to fight a good fight we have to be well-informed. Prevention and early detection is key. So, in honor of breast cancer awareness month, I want to help educate you. The following information and pictures are taken from the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc, nationalbreastcancer.org.
Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast. It is considered a heterogeneous disease, meaning that it is a different disease in different women, a different disease in different age groups and has different cell populations within the tumor itself. Generally, breast cancer is a much more aggressive disease in younger women.
Women in the United States get breast cancer more than any other type of cancer except for skin cancer. It is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death in women.
This year it is estimated that nearly 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die. Breast cancer is not exclusively a disease of women, however. Approximately 1,700 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 450 will die each year. The evaluation of men with breast masses is similar to that in women, including mammography.
No one knows the exact causes of breast cancer, but research has shown that women with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop the disease.
Risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Older age – Half of all women diagnosed are over age sixty-five
- Early onset of menses or late menopause
- Diets high in saturated fat
- Older age at birth of first child or never having given birth
- A personal history of breast cancer or benign (noncancer) breast disease
- A family history, particularly a mother or sister
- Treatment with radiation therapy to the breast/chest
- Breast tissue that is dense on a mammogram
- Taking hormones such as estrogen and progesterone
- Moderate alcoholic intake – more than 2 drinks per day
- Gene changes – including BRCA1, BRCA2, and others
Generally, early breast cancer does not cause pain. Even so, a woman should see her health care provider about breast pain or any other symptom that does not go away.
Common symptoms of breast cancer include:
- A change in how the breast or nipple feels
You may experience nipple tenderness or notice a lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area.
- A change in how the breast or nipple looks
This could mean a change in the size or shape of the breast or a nipple that is turned slightly inward. In addition, the skin of the breast, areola or nipple may appear scaly, red or swollen or may have ridges or pitting that resembles the skin of an orange.
- Nipple discharge
Early Detection Plan
An Early Breast Cancer Detection Plan should include:
- Clinical breast examinations every three years from ages 20-39, then every year thereafter.
- Monthly breast self-examinations beginning at age 20. Look for any changes in your breasts.
- Baseline mammogram by the age of 40.
- Mammogram every one to two years for women 40-49, depending on previous findings.
- Mammogram every year for women 50 and older.
- A personal calendar to record your self-exams, mammograms, and doctor appointments.
- A low-fat diet, regular exercise, and no smoking or drinking
How to do a Breast Self-Examination
In the Shower
Fingers flat, move gently over every part of each breast. Use your right hand to examine left breast, left hand for right breast. Check for any lump, hard knot or thickening. Carefully observe any changes in your breasts.
Before a Mirror
Inspect your breasts with arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in contour of each breast, a swelling, a dimpling of skin or changes in the nipple. Then rest palm on hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match – few women’s breasts do.
Place pillow under right shoulder, right arm behind your head. With fingers of left hand flat, press right breast gently in small circular motions, moving vertically or in a circular pattern covering the entire breast. Use light, medium and firm pressure. Squeeze nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
I hope this information has helped to teach you about breast cancer, the risk factors, and the symptoms. Also, I hope it has helped to inspire you to start doing monthly breast exams. Now, the power is yours!