October is breast cancer awareness month. Breast cancer continues to be one of the most common female cancers worldwide and despite our best efforts, it still has a high mortality rate. By now, most women have passing familiarity with the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and understand the importance of getting screened early on. However, there are few things you may not have known about breast cancer.
1) 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime . Over the past few decades we’ve made incredible strides in the detection, screening and treatment of breast cancer but unfortunately, there is still much work to be done.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women and it is estimated that each year, over 252,710 women in the United States will be diagnosed with the disease . These numbers show just how important it is that all women participate in the breast cancer screening programs offered by their doctor.
2) Are you up to date on your screenings? Guidelines and recommendations shift over time
There are a handful of national medical authorities that all have slightly different breast cancer screening guidelines and recommendations. Speak to your doctor to find out exactly which ones they follow but the general screening guidelines according to the American Cancer Society are :
- Women between 40 and 44 – Have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year. This option should be discussed in further detail with your doctor
- Women 45 to 54 – Should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older – Can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
NOTE: These guidelines are for women at average risk for breast cancer. A woman is considered to be at average risk if she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, or a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer (such as in a BRCA gene), and has not had chest radiation therapy before the age of 30 .
Think about where you fall within those different categories. Is it time for you to get a mammogram?
3) Women diagnosed with breast cancer are surviving longer than ever before
When it comes to breast cancer, it’s not all bad news. Consider that the death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1990 and since then, over 3.3 million breast cancer survivors are alive in the United States . New medications, advancements in genetic testing, DNA analysis and of course earlier detection have meant that women diagnosed with breast cancer are living longer and more productive lives.
4) Signs and symptoms of breast cancer revisited
Most women are already familiar with these symptoms but it never hurts to get a reminder every once in awhile about what you should be on the lookout for. This includes :
- A Lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm that persists through the menstrual cycle.
- A mass or lump, which may feel as small as a pea.
- A change in the size, shape, or contour of the breast.
- A blood-stained or clear fluid discharge from the nipple.
- A change in the feel or appearance of the skin on the breast or nipple (dimpled, puckered, scaly, or inflamed).
- Redness of the skin on the breast or nipple.
- A marble-like hardened area under the skin.
If you notice any of these symptoms or see a change in your breast or nipples from what you consider to be ‘normal’ (for you), be sure to make an appointment to see your doctor.
5) Know the steps you can take to lower your risk of breast cancer
The causes of breast cancer are not fully understood. Age, gender and lifetime exposure to estrogen are thought to play a role in its development but scientists still don’t have a clear understanding of precisely how much of an impact each of these factors have.
However, we do know that there are a few things you can do to help reduce your risk of breast cancer, such as :
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Add exercise into your routine
- Limit alcohol intake
- Limit menopausal hormone use
- Breastfeed, if you can
Breast cancer continues to be a global problem that doctors, scientists and researchers are fighting to solve. But until the time comes that we discover a cure, our knowledge of the disease is the best defense we have against it. So stay informed, keep up to date with your screenings and pass the word around to your female family, friends and loved ones to do the same.
1) National Breast Cancer Foundation. Facts About Breast Cancer In The United States
2) WebMD. Breast cancer facts. Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD. November 11, 2017
3) Susan G. Koman foundation. Breast Cancer Facts.
4) American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society Recommendations for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer. Last Medical Review: September 1, 2017.