As you have no doubt been reminded of multiple times by now, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I have to admit that researching for this article showed me just how unaware I’ve been about breast cancer symptoms, treatments, and risk factors.
When I think about breast cancer, my mind travels immediately to those I’ve known that have had it, and even passed away from it. These thoughts are immediately followed by a ball of stress as I consider that I could be next, and what am I supposed to do to prevent or detect it? Shower breast exams and mammograms when I’m older have pretty much been the extent of my knowledge, and I realize now that there’s so much more to it. So I propose we celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month, not just by donating and wearing pink, but by actually becoming aware.
10 Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Do you know the symptoms of breast cancer? So often we hear about lumps in our breast, but did you know that (according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation) there are other symptoms as well? Here are 10 to that you should notify your doctor about if you notice them:
- Nipple tenderness, or a lump or thickening in the breast or underarm area.
- A change in the skin texture where the pores enlarge. Many describe the texture to be similar to an orange peel’s.
- A lump in the breast.
- Any unexplained change in the size or shape of your breast.
- Dimpling of the breast.
- Swelling or shrinkage of the breast, especially if it’s only one.
- Recent asymmetry of the breast (it’s normal to be uneven, but if it is recent, then you should have it checked.)
- Nipple that is turned slightly inward or inverted.
- Skin of the breast, areola, or nipple becomes scaly, red, or swollen, or may have ridges or pitting resembling the peel of an orange.
- Discharge from the nipple. (If you are not nursing, milky discharge should also be checked, even though it isn’t necessarily related to breast cancer.)
10 Factors That Affect Your Breast Cancer Risk
According to the Susan G. Komen website, the following factors affect your risk of developing breast cancer:
Fewer than 5% of women diagnosed with breast cancer are under the age of 40. Rates begin to increase after age 40 and are highest in women over age 70 – Learn More
2. Age at First Childbirth, Number of Childbirths, and Breastfeeding
Women who give birth to their first child before the age of 35 have a decreased risk of developing breast cancer as the long term protective benefit of childbirth comes into affect sooner.
In general, the more childbirths a woman has, the less her chances of getting breast cancer. The reasons are unclear at this time, but it is theorized that it has to do with the way cells develop in the breast during pregnancy. Lead More
Breastfeeding also decreases the risk of breast cancer, and the longer your combined total of breastfeeding is in years, the better the benefit. Learn More
3. Age at Which You Got Your First Period
Women who began their periods before the age of 12 have 20% higher breast cancer risk than women who began their periods at the age of 14. Learn More
4. Age at Menopause
Women who go through menopause after the age of 55 have a 30% higher risk of breast cancer than those who went through menopause before the age of 45. Learn More
Women who drink 2-3 alcoholic beverages a day have a 20% higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who seldom drink. Learn More
Regular exercise appears to lower breast cancer risk by 10-20 percent. Learn More
7. Eating Fruits and Vegetables
Eating fruits and vegetables that provide carotenoids (a natural orange-red food pigment) can slightly reduce the risk of breast cancer. This is also helpful for preventing heart disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases. Learn More
8. Working the Night Shift
Studies show that women who work night shift for many years have a slight increase in their breast cancer risk. More study is need to understand why, but it is believed it has to do with their exposure to light at night. Learn More
Many studies have shown that women over the height of 5’3″ have an higher risk than women shorter than 5’3″ do. Learn More
10. Overweight and Weight Gain
Before menopause, being overweight or obese modestly decreases breast cancer risk.
After menopause, being overweight or obese increases breast cancer risk.
Gaining weight in adulthood appears to increase the risk of breast cancer (both before and after menopause) Learn More
There are additional factors involving genetics and hormones that you can learn more about here.
When to Get Screened
Early detection of breast cancer gives you the best chance of survival, and women who are high risk need to get tested earlier and more often.
America Cancer Society Recommendations
For Women Who Have an Average Risk Level
Starting at age 40: Mammograms and Clinical Breast Exams every year. Learn More
For Women Who Have a High Risk Level
Treatment recommendations vary depending on the risk factors but if you have any of the following high risk factors, you will need to have Breast MRI’s every year, and Clinical Breast Exams every 6mo-1 year starting at an early age.
- A BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
- A first-degree relative with a BRCA1/2 mutation, but personally have not been tested for BRCA1/2 mutations
- A strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer (for example, two or more first-degree relatives with breast cancer or two or more with ovarian cancer)
- Radiation treatment to the chest area before age 30
- Li-Fraumeni, Cowden or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome (or a first-degree relative with one of these syndromes or a family with a known p53 or PTEN gene mutation)
- A greater than 20 percent lifetime risk of invasive breast cancer (Estimate your lifetime risk or learn more about risk.)
Good News Developments
Cancer Detecting Blood Test
A group of London researchers found a new blood test that may be able to detect (with over 80 percent accuracy) whether a woman will develop breast cancer in the next 2-5 years. It’s still in the research and development stages, but it provides a huge dose of hope for the future.
A New Drug
A report in The Lancet revealed that a bone loos prevention drug could also reduce the number of breast cancer deaths in postmenopausal women. A 28% lower rate of cancer metastasis to the bones and 18% lower overall breast cancer mortality was found in the ten years after diagnosis.
Original Source: The Oprah Magazine
Assess Your Breast Cancer Risk
Want to know how high your risk is? Take this risk assessment test from the National Cancer Institute:
I hope this information left you more informed than before. I know researching it was informative for me. Let’s all stay healthy out there, and support the incredible research that’s making it a more hopeful world.
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