Even though October is halfway over already and I'm a little late with this, it's better late than never! As I'm sure most of you know, October is breast cancer awareness month. What does this mean? It means that even though we all know breast cancer exists, it is important to spread awareness, education, and support and while we should be doing that all year, October is a special designated time to think (and talk!) about it.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast.
There are different kinds of breast cancer.
Breast cancer can begin in different parts of the breast. A breast is made up of three main parts: lobules, ducts, and connective tissue. The lobules are the glands that produce milk. The ducts are tubes that carry milk to the nipple. The connective tissue (which consists of fibrous and fatty tissue) surrounds and holds everything together. Most breast cancers begin in the ducts or lobules.
Breast cancer can spread outside the breast through blood vessels and lymph vessels. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is said to have metastasized.
What are the facts and stats of breast cancer?
- One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
- Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women.
- Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women.
- Each year it is estimated that over 252,710 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,500 will die from it.
- Although breast cancer in men is rare, an estimated 2,470 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 460 will die each year from it.
- There are over 3.3 million breast cancer survivors alive in the United States today.
(Stats from National Breast Cancer Foundation)
Breast cancer is a very serious topic to discuss. It affects the lives of so many women and men across the world. I'm sure we all know at least one person who has it or is a survivor of breast cancer. This is something that everyone should be concerned about.
What are the risk factors for developing breast cancer?
There are many risk factors for cancer but here are a few of the most common ones and while some of these risk factors can be prevented, many of them cannot.
- Age. On average, women over 50 are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. The risk increases as you get older.
- Gender. Breast cancer is 100 times more common in women.
- Family history. Having a family history of breast cancer, particularly women with a mother, sister or daughter who has or had breast cancer, may double your risk.
- Inherited factors. Some inherited genetic mutations may increase your breast cancer risks. Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common inherited causes.
- Obesity. After menopause, fat tissue may contribute to increases in estrogen levels, and high levels of estrogen may increase the risk of breast cancer. Weight gain during adulthood and excess body fat around the waist may also play a role.
- High breast density. Women with less fatty tissue and more glandular and fibrous tissue may be at higher risk for developing breast cancer than women with less dense breasts.
- Menstrual history. Women who start menstruation at an early age (before age 12) and/or menopause at an older age (after age 55) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.
- Heavy drinking. The use of alcohol is linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed over your lifetime.
(Risk factors listed are from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
When should you start getting checked for breast cancer?
I would highly encourage all of you to get regular breast exams. The facts show that finding breast cancer as early as possible gives you a better chance of successful treatment. Many women with breast cancer have no symptoms, this is why mammograms are so important. We must be in control of our health and that means being proactive. Generally, it is recommended that all women begin getting mammograms starting at age 40. Of course, it depends on the individual person, some women should begin getting screened earlier. It is always best to talk to your doctor to figure out what is best for you.
Even though mammograms are very important, they do not always find every breast cancer, being aware and looking for any changes in your breasts is one of the most important things you can do for your own health. Performing regular self-exams is a great way of checking yourself in between your mammogram visits.
Here are some easy steps to performing a self-exam.
Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.
Here's what you should look for:
- Breasts that are their usual size, shape, and color
- Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling
If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor's attention:
- Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
- A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
- Signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).
Raise your arms and look for the same changes.
Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter. Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage. Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast.
Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in the previous step.
(information above is from breastcancer.org)
Breast cancer is an important topic to talk about. Every October we hear people bringing it up but let's not stop the discussion when October ends. We need to continue spreading information and education year-round. Your health and life are important. Taking a few minutes out of your day to do a self-exam can potentially be the best decision you ever make. I've personally seen the effects of breast cancer on people's lives, all the way from taking a mother too soon to ruining a woman's self-esteem, it's truly a horrible disease.
Some people like to use catchphrases like "save the ta-ta's" and while this is a great way of bringing attention to the issue, I don't want to just save the breasts, I want to help save the WOMAN. Your life matters.