Approximately 246,000 women in the United States, or 1 in 8, are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. After skin cancer, it is the second most common cancer among U.S. women.1 Since this disease is so common and the numbers are alarming, it helps to know how you can prevent it and how to detect it in its early stages, so that appropriate diagnosis and treatment can be provided. Here are some important aspects to consider and watch out for.
1. Breast Cancer Can Be Of Many Types
Breast cancer is not just one disease. In reality, breast cancer can be of several types and can develop in different parts of the breast. It differs greatly among different women and can be diagnosed at various stages. Even the rate at which cancer grows hugely varies and some cancers can be more aggressive than others.
Due to these vast differences, breast cancer treatment is dependent on multiple factors and is usually individual-specific. So, there is no common treatment that works for all women. Your doctor will diagnose the severity and provide appropriate treatment based on the assessment.
2. Breast Cancer Is Not Always Hereditary
Many women believe that they may develop breast cancer only if a close member of their family is diagnosed with it. This is a common myth and only 5-10 percent of breast cancers are attributed to high-risk inherited genetic mutation, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2.2
So, 90 percent of the time, it occurs mostly due to a combination of risk factors, some of which can be controlled and some that can’t. Breast cancer is not always genetic and very few cases are hereditary. But, if you have a family member diagnosed with breast cancer, consult your doctor to assess the risk before jumping to conclusions.
3. It’s Vital To Know How Your Breasts Look And Feel
Every woman must make it a habit to religiously examine her breasts at regular intervals to look for any abnormalities or unusual growths. Some common signs and symptoms to watch out for include,
- Any change in size or shape of one or both breasts
- A lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast
- A pain in the armpit or breast that persists
- Changes in skin texture, such as puckering or dimpling on the skin of the breasts
- Redness or rash, especially around the nipple
- Any abnormal swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone
- A discharge from either nipple
This self-examination is the first step towards preventing or treating breast cancer. Have your doctor check any of these abnormal signs.
4. A Lump Does Not Always Indicate A Cancer
A lump in the breast is often the most easily identified and acknowledged sign of breast cancer. But, experts say that almost 90 percent of the time it turns out to be something benign or non-cancerous. The chances of it being cancerous are quite low.
In most cases, symptoms such as a lump may occur because of normal breast changes or a benign breast condition. However, if you notice a lump, it’s always best to consult your doctor to ascertain the actual cause.
5. Breast Screening Is A Life-Saver
Mammography is the most widely used screening modality. According to research, breast cancer screening prevents thousands of women from dying because of the disease each year. As breast cancer is more prevalent in women over the age of 50, such women must get themselves screened at regular intervals.
Many studies have shown that for women aged between 40 and 74 years, screening with mammography has been associated with a 15-20 percent relative reduction in mortality from breast cancer.3 However, breast cancer screening is important for women who notice any abnormalities in their breasts and not just for women in their 50s.
6. Lifestyle Plays A Crucial Role
Lifestyle modifications are shown to play an important role in the prevention of breast cancer. Diet, regular exercise, smoking, alcohol use, and vitamin and mineral use are influential factors that impact the risk of breast cancer among women.4
Lifestyle changes combined with appropriate and timely screening tests are the two most crucial factors in reducing the rate of breast cancer and also in the early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.
Adopting a healthier lifestyle not only benefits women who are at risk of breast cancer, but also helps women who have been diagnosed with the disease. Lifestyle change is effective in breast cancer survivors in order to prevent its recurrence.5
7. Breast Density Matters
Increased breast density is associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer.6 Breasts are considered as dense if they contain less fat and more connective and glandular tissue. Although these features are more common in the breasts of younger women, they can also be noticed in some older women, who undergo combined hormone therapy.
Dense breasts have a six-fold chance of developing cancer and they are more difficult to detect using mammograms. Digital mammography helps in better detection of cancer in women with dense breasts as it provides fine-tuned images that make tiny abnormalities more clearly visible. Even an ultrasound or an MRI can reinforce the findings obtained from a mammogram.7
|↑1||Breast Cancer. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. 2017.|
|↑2||Cancer Genetics Overview–Health Professional Version. National Cancer Institute. 2017.|
|↑3||Breast Cancer Screening. National Cancer Institute. 2017.|
|↑4||Dieterich, Max, Johannes Stubert, Toralf Reimer, Nicole Erickson, and Anika Berling. “Influence of lifestyle factors on breast cancer risk.” Breast care 9, no. 6 (2014): 407-414.|
|↑5||Hashemi, Seyed Hesam Bani, Samieh Karimi, and Hamidreza Mahboobi. “Lifestyle changes for prevention of breast cancer.” Electronic physician 6, no. 3 (2014): 894.|
|↑6||Breast Cancer Prevention. National Cancer Institute. 2017.|
|↑7||Breast cancer: What role does breast density play? National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2017.|