It’s October, which is a very important month—Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There are a lot of ways that you can help yourself—and women in need—by getting educated and self-screening regularly.
What Is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant, or cancerous, cells form in the tissues of the breast. Despite how common breast cancer is, experts still don’t know exactly what causes it. It’s difficult to pinpoint why one woman may develop breast cancer, and another won’t. At its foundation, however, it’s caused by damage to a cell’s DNA.
There are a few misconceptions floating around, and we’re here to clear them up. Here are a few things that don’t cause breast cancer:
- Cell phones
- Contact with someone who has cancer
While doctors don’t know exactly what causes breast cancer, they do know of certain “risk factors,” or things that could increase your risk of developing breast cancer. Some of these can be avoided, like drinking too much alcohol, but many of them can’t—like having a family history of breast cancer. It’s also important to note that many women who have risk factors never develop breast cancer. So, having a risk factor doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have it.
Breast Cancer Statistics
One in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. On average, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in America every two minutes. A majority—64 percent—of cases are diagnosed at the localized stage, which means that the cancer has not spread outside the breast. At the localized stage, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent. Although it’s rare, men develop breast cancer, too: This year, an estimated 2,620 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. There are more than 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
Early Detection Is the Best Defense Against Breast Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, when breast cancer is detected early, and is in the localized stage (as mentioned above), the five-year relative survival rate is 99 percent. That’s why education is so important.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer:
Changes In How the Breast Or Nipple Feels
- Nipple tenderness
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm area
- A change in skin texture in the skin of the breast
- Enlargement of pores in the skin of the breast
- A lump in the breast
Changes In How the Breast Or Nipple Looks
- Any unexplained change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling anywhere on the breast
- Unexplained swelling of the breast, especially only on one side
- Unexplained shrinkage of the breast, especially only on one side
- Recent asymmetry of the breasts
- A nipple that is turned inward or is inverted
- Skin of the breast becomes red, scaly, or swollen
Any Nipple Discharge
If you are not breastfeeding, and you notice clear or bloody discharge coming from your nipples, you should see a healthcare professional.
What You Can Do
Aside from looking out for the above signs and symptoms, there are things you can do to protect yourself more thoroughly. One of the most important things you can do is give yourself an exam about once a month. In fact, adult women of all ages should give themselves an exam regularly—because 40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump on their own.
Regular mammograms and healthcare checkups are also important, but performing self-exams allows you to get really familiar with your breasts—so you can better notice any changes that might occur later on.
Here are a few ways you can perform a breast exam at home. Utilize all three methods to be thorough.
In the Shower
With varying pressure, use the flats of your three middle fingers to check your entire breast. You’re looking for any kind of lumps, thickening, hardened knots, or any other breast changes.
In Front of the Mirror
Visually inspect your breasts, first with your arms at your sides, and then raising your arms above your head. Next, place your hands on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. There’s a good chance your breasts won’t match exactly, but that’s normal! Just look out for any puckering of the skin, dimpling, or changes—particularly on one side only.
Lying down is a good opportunity to check your breasts because the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. As with all of these methods, use your left hand to examine your right breast and vice versa. Use light, medium, and firm pressure over your entire breast and underarm area. Squeeze the nipples as well, and look for any discharge or lumps.
Play your part in early prevention by performing once-a-month exams, and getting checked by a healthcare professional regularly. Check out our blog for more health tips, or schedule an appointment with one of our doctors today.