Breast Cancer Awareness
Personal History of Breast Cancer
If a woman has developed cancer in one breast, she has a three-to-four fold increased risk of developing a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast. (This is different from a return of the first cancer).
It’s also important to know that if a woman has had breast cancer, she’s at an increased risk for developing ovarian cancer.
Women of certain races, lineage and backgrounds may have an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis among African American women, and some black women are experiencing an especially aggressive form. People of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry are more prone to being carriers of the BRCA gene mutations, which also puts them at a higher risk.
Women who started menstruating at an early age (before age 12) or who went through menopause at a late age (after age 55) have a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Being a woman is the greatest risk factor for developing breast cancer. While men can develop breast cancer, it is much more common in women because the cells in our breasts are constantly exposed to estrogen and progesterone, the female hormones that promote growth.
Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you get older. About two thirds of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are over the age of 55. In fact, 78% of all invasive breast cancer diagnoses occur in women age 50 or older. Women in their 40’s account for only 17% of diagnoses. The stats are even lower for younger women.
From the 1940s through the 1960s, some women were given diethylstilbestrol (DES) to reduce the odds of miscarriage. Recent studies show DES exposure may increase risk of developing breast cancer not only for those women, but also women who were also exposed to the drug in utero.
Some studies show that dense breasts are a risk factor for breast cancer. Further, they make tumors more difficult to detect with traditional mammography. Thus, the American College of Radiology recommends that women with dense breasts consider MRIs and/or ultrasounds to supplement their mammograms.
Chest Radiation Treatments
Your risk for developing breast cancer is significantly increased if you have received radiation treatments to the chest for another cancer (like Hodgkin’s disease or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) at a young age, particularly while your breasts were developing.
Family History and Genetics
Sometimes breast cancer seems to run in the family. Sometimes, this is because mutated genes (the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes) have been passed down to you from your mother or father. These genes dramatically increase the risk of developing cancer. A strong family history of breast cancer may indicate an inherited gene mutation for a small percentage of women. Speak to your doctor about genetic testing to determine if you carry this gene and are at an increased risk.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
- 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 the following:
- Beginning at age 20: Performing breast self-exams and looking for any signs of change.
- Age 20 to 39: Scheduling clinical breast exams every three years.
- By the age of 40: Having a baseline mammogram and annual clinical breast exams.
- Ages 40 to 49: Having a mammogram every one to two years depending on previous findings.
- Ages 50 and older: Having a mammogram every year.
- All Ages: Recording personal exams, mammograms and doctors' appointments on a calendar or in a detailed file. Also, try to maintain a healthy weight, follow a low-fat diet, get regular exercise, quit smoking, and reduce alcohol consumption.
HOW TO DO A BREAST SELF-EXAM
Taking a few minutes to do a breast self-exam a minimum of once a month can make a lifetime of difference. Most of all breast cancers are found through self-exams and with early detection the 5-year survival rate is 98%. If you find a lump, schedule an appointment with your doctor, but don't panic. 8 out of 10 lumps found are not cancerous. For additional peace of mind, call your doctor whenever you have concerns.
Before a Mirror
Inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in the contour of each breast, swelling, dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples shape or color.
In the Shower
With fingers flat, move gently over every part of each breast. Use your right hand to examine the left breast, and left hand to examine the right breast. Check for any lumps, hard knots, or thickening. Carefully observe any changes in your breasts.
Place a pillow under your right shoulder and put your right arm behind your head. With the fingers of your left hand flat, press your 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 the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.