Breast Cancer Awareness Month, held in October every year, is a way to promote breast cancer screening and prevention.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control. There are different kinds of breast cancer depending on which cells in the breast turn into cancer.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States, affecting one in eight women every year in the US, and 2.3 million women worldwide. Although it is much more common in women, breast cancer affects men, too.
What are the Symptoms?
Different people have different symptoms of breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all. Some warning signs of breast cancer are—
• New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
• Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
• Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
• Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
• Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
• Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
• Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
• Pain in any area of the breast.
Keep in mind that these symptoms can happen with other conditions that are not cancer.
What are the Risk Factors?
Studies have shown that your risk for breast cancer is due to a combination of factors. The main factors that influence your risk include being a woman and getting older. Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older.
What is Breast Cancer Screening?
Breast cancer screening means checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease. Breast cancer screening can help find breast cancer early when it is easier to treat.
For many women, mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.
Breast MRI is used along with mammograms to screen women who are at high risk for getting breast cancer. A breast MRI uses magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the breast. Because breast MRIs may appear abnormal even when there is no cancer, they are not used for women at average risk.
Another screening method is an examination by your health care provider, who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or other changes. This is called a clinical breast exam.
Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is an organization made up of doctors and disease experts who look at research on the best way to prevent diseases and make recommendations on how doctors can help patients avoid diseases or find them early.
The USPSTF recommends that women who are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every two years. Women who are 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor or other health care provider about when to start and how often to get a mammogram.
Being familiar with how your breasts look and feel can help you notice symptoms such as lumps, pain, or changes in size that may be of concern. These could include changes found during a breast self-exam. Be sure to report any changes that you notice to your health care provider.
By: Jordan Ryley, NP