October is breast cancer awareness month, an annual campaign to raise awareness of this deadly disease.
It’s the most common type of cancer diagnosed in women after skin cancer.
This cancer starts from the breast, usually in the form of a tumor that can spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system.
Research suggests that at least 1 in 8 U.S women will develop breast cancer over the course of her life.
Men can also be impacted by this disease, but the chance of that happening is fairly low.
About 1 in 833 men are at a risk of acquiring breast cancer.
According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer became one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers globally in 2021, accounting for 12% of all cancer cases.
While the statistics may create a grim picture, there is a hopeful light at the end of the tunnel.
The American Cancer Society reported, if breast cancer is detected early and it is in the localized stage, the relative 5-year survival rate is 99%.
Continue reading below to understand the early signs and symptoms, to protect yourself and your loved ones from this life-threatening disease.
What Is Breast Cancer?
As mentioned previously, breast cancer refers to the abnormal growth of cancer cells in different parts of the breast.
These cells usually form a tumor which can be felt as a lump, or can be seen through an X-ray.
However, it is important to note that most breast lumps are benign, and not cancerous.
Although these tumors display abnormal growth, they are not life threatening and do not spread outside the breast.
Nevertheless, the presence of some types of benign lumps increase the risk of acquiring breast cancer.
Hence, any change in the breast should be properly examined by a health care professional to determine whether it’s cancerous or not, along with its implications and potential risk.
Who’s at Risk
Breast cancer typically occurs within women, especially those aged 55 and older.
Other factors for being at a high risk for acquiring this disease are as follows:
- Hereditary: Approximately 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are found to be hereditary, and are passed on from parents and siblings.
- Older age: The risk of breast cancer increases with age.
- Personal history of breast cancer: Having a personal history of breast cancer in one breast increases the chances of its occurrence in the second breast.
- Radiation exposure: Receiving radiation treatment to the chest during childhood or young adulthood increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Being overweight: Obesity also increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Early period and late menopause: Getting your period at an early age or beginning menopause at an older age can also lead to breast cancer.
- Late or no pregnancy: Women who have never been pregnant or have had their first child after the age of 30 are at an increased risk of having breast cancer.
- Hormonal replacement therapy: Women undergoing hormonal replacement therapy to treat the symptoms of menopause increase their risk of breast cancer.
- Alcohol: Consuming alcohol is also linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
Read More About Women’s Health:
Breast Cancer Signs & Symptoms
Maintaining optimal breast health involves understanding how your breasts look and feel, and being aware of any changes that may occur.
Mammograms are typically the best source to detect early signs of breast cancers, however, there is a chance of lumps being missed out during the test.
Hence, it’s important to regularly check yourself for any irregularities which may be symptoms or early signs of this disease.
The most common symptom associated with this disease is the formation of a lump or mass.
One should be able to feel this hard lump, which is usually painless and has irregular edges.
However, some lumps may also be tender, round, and even painful.
Other symptoms are as follows:
- Changes in size, shape, or appearance of the breast
- Swelling and thickening of a part of the breast
- Redness or flaky skin around the nipple area of the breast
- Pain in any part of the breast
- Nipple discharge (not breast milk), may also include blood
- Pain in the nipple area, or pulling in of the nipple
- Dimpling of the breast
- Swollen lymph nodes
Although these symptoms may be related to other conditions not associated with breast cancer, you should always report these signs to your doctor to discover the underlying cause.
Early Detection & Diagnosis
Unlike other types of cancers, breast cancer can be treated easily if detected within its early stages.
Mammograms are the most reliable way to rule out the possibility of breast cancer.
These are low-dose x-rays to examine the breast, and use standard 2-dimensional digital mammography or 3-D mammograms.
There are two primary types of screening protocols – screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms.
Screening mammograms are useful for early detection of breast cancer, and are performed on women having no symptoms, but are at average risk of breast cancer.
Breast cancers found during screening are usually small in size and are still confined to the breast.
The most important factors while determining the prognosis of this disease are the size of the tumor and how far it has spread.
Diagnostic mammograms, on the other hand, are performed on women who have experienced symptoms associated with the disease, or to further detect any abnormalities found during the screening mammogram.
This process consists of a targeted breast ultrasound to further evaluate the area.
However, it is imperative to note that mammograms are not perfect.
There is a chance that the cancer may be missed out during the test, and would also lead to follow-up tests to determine the possibility of breast cancer.
Nonetheless, women at an average risk of acquiring the disease should go through regular mammograms and screening tests followed with consultations from health care professionals.
Recommended Screening Guidelines
Women are considered to be at an average risk if they don’t have a personal or family history of breast cancer, and have not undergone chest radiation therapy before the age of 30.
The American Cancer Society recommends screening guidelines for such individuals, that are listed below:
Women aged between 40 and 44 can start screening with a mammogram every year.
Women aged between 45 to 54 should get mammograms each year.
Women aged 55 and older can get a mammogram every other year, or they can continue yearly mammograms.
Women who are considered to be at a high risk of acquiring breast cancer are advised to get breast MRI and a mammogram every year, starting at the age of 30.
Such women have a strong family history of breast cancer, or have received chest radiation therapy at a young age.
How You Can Play A Part
Given the high prevalence of this disease, talking and generating awareness regarding this topic can really make a difference.
Protect yourself and your loved ones by understanding the early signs and symptoms and the importance of screening.
By catching the disease at its early stages, the chances of recovery are high.
This is all the more reason to create awareness about breast cancer, not only in the month of October, but year-round.
Together, we can make a huge impact. So, play your part in spreading the word, as well as donating to breast cancer charities and research initiatives that aim to find novel cures for the disease.