October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here are 31 facts and tips to know about preventing, living with, or spreading awareness of the disease.
Women can be proactive in the fight against breast cancer by learning to identify early warning signs of the disease. The warning signs for breast cancer are not the same for all women, but common signs include a change in the look or feel of the breast or a change in the look or feel of the nipple. A discharge from the nipple is another common warning sign of breast cancer.
Breast cancer treatment depends on the stage of the cancer, personal choices as well as doctor recommendations. In many cases, chemotherapy is included in a treatment plan. Chemotherapy targets fast-growing cancer cells in the body to prevent cancer from spreading and to shrink tumors. Many women confront chemotherapy-related hair loss with head coverings: scarves, cloche hats, turbans, baseball hats, and wigs.
Breast cancer affects millions of women across the globe every year. According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women, affecting 2.1 million women each year. As daunting as that may seem, the WHO also notes that early diagnosis can greatly reduce a woman’s risk of dying from breast cancer.
Women can be proactive in the fight against breast cancer by learning to identify early warning signs of the disease. Physical changes in the breast can vary, but should be brought to a physicians’ attention immediately: a lump, hard knot or thickening inside of the breast or underarm area; change in the size or shape of the breast; swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast; dimpling of the skin; and physical changes in a nipple.
In addition to providing emotional support, loved ones of breast cancer patients may need to take on additional roles as they help their friends or family members face the challenges that lay ahead.
Physical changes in breasts are not necessarily indicative of breast cancer. Not all lumps in the breast cause cancer and many such lumps are benign. However, it’s important to note that even benign conditions may put women at greater risk of developing breast cancer. It’s also common for women’s breasts to be asymmetrical, but sudden asymmetry should be brought to the attention of a physician.
Various factors can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. But the good news is that women can avoid certain behaviors to decrease their risk of developing the disease. The following are some habits, behaviors or lifestyle choices to avoid that can increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer: alcohol consumption, a sedentary lifestyle and smoking.
When localized breast cancer is caught early, the five-year survival rate is 99%, according to the National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Many risk factors for breast cancer are beyond women’s control. For example, the American Breast Cancer Foundation notes that roughly two out of three invasive breast cancers occur in women age 55 and older. Women cannot change their ages, but recognizing the link between age and breast cancer risk is important, as such a recognition may compel more women 55 and older to prioritize cancer screening.
Gender and family history are two unchangeable risk factors for breast cancer. Women are much more likely to get breast cancer than men. In addition, Breastcancer.org notes that between 5 and 10 percent of breast cancers are believed to be caused by abnormal genes that are passed from parent to child. Knowledge of breast cancer, including risk factors, is a great weapon against developing the disease.
Using 3D mammography may increase breast cancer detection rates by about 40%, according to the National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Mammograms take images of breast tissue to determine the presence of abnormalities, including lumps. Women may undergo traditional, 2D mammograms, but increasingly many health care facilities are now employing 3D technology because it can provide clearer pictures. The Women’s Breast Health and Imaging Center in Aiken offers 3D mammograms.
A 3D mammogram takes several different X-rays of the breasts and combines those images to establish a three-dimensional picture. A 3D mammogram releases the same amount of radiation as a traditional mammogram. It is of no greater risk to the patient, and it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Because 3D mammograms produce more images, it may take a radiologist a little longer to read one than it would a 2D mammogram.
Women who started menstruating before age 12 have a higher risk of developing breast cancer later in life, as well as women who go through menopause when they’re older than 55, according to Breastcancer.org. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and eating nutritious foods are some lifestyle choices that girls and women can make to keep their risk for breast cancer as low as possible.
Early detection is critical. Monthly self-exams can help women more easily identify changes in their breasts. During such self-exams, women can look for the following signs and symptoms and are advised to report any abnormalities to their doctor immediately: changes in how the breast or nipple feels; change in appearance; dimpling anywhere on the breast; unexplained swelling or shrinking; and a nipple that is turned slightly inward or inverted.
Male breast cancer is most common in older men, but it is important that men recognize that the disease can strike them at any age. Men with breast cancer experience symptoms that are similar to those experienced by women. Possible signs include: skin dimpling or puckering; a lump or swelling, which is typically (but not always) painless; nipple retraction; redness or scaling; or discharge from the nipple.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in American women, according to the National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
While many people are quick to focus on the ways COVID-19 has impacted their everyday lives, the virus has made life especially difficult for people with preexisting health conditions, including breast cancer. If possible, ask a friend or family member to do your shopping or run errands for you to limit exposure to other people and crowds.
Women Enlightened for Better Health is a unique health initiative developed by Aiken Regional Medical Centers to provide guidance, support and care navigation to women as they make health decisions for themselves and their family.
Choosing an oncologist is a significant decision. The following tips can help make that decision easier: Speak with your primary care physician; emphasize communication; after speaking with some oncologists, ask yourself if you understand each one’s explanations about treatment, prognosis and potential side effects; look for a cancer center staffed with doctors who specialize in treating various cancers in an assortment of ways.
Support networks can be vital to helping cancer patients overcome their disease and navigate their way through successful treatment regimens. Women may experience emotions such as shock, anger, disbelief, anxiety, and sadness after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Having loved ones there to help them make sense of those emotions and stay positive as they navigate their way through the treatment process is essential.
Mammograms matter. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
There are many ways to make a mammogram a more comfortable experience: schedule the mammogram for a week after a menstrual period when hormonal swings are less likely to increase breast sensitivity; reduce caffeine consumption for two weeks before the mammogram; reduce tension by breathing deeply before the procedure; try a pain reliever before the mammogram; ask the mammography center if it has padding to reduce pain.
Cancer screening tests are designed to find cancers in their earliest stages, when the disease is most treatable. Many cancer screening tests have been found to lower the death rate from particular cancers. Mammograms can help find breast abnormalities early on when they are easier to treat and can produce a very good success rate.
Women’s reproductive history could affect breast cancer risk. There is a correlation between the amount of reproductive estrogen present in a woman’s body and her risk. Women who have a higher concentration of body fat or are largely sedentary may have higher levels of estrogen, which affects their cancer risk. Conversely, although reproductive hormones are elevated during pregnancy, having children helps reduce breast cancer risk over time.
Science and medicine are working tirelessly to develop a vaccine that can prevent or cure breast cancer. An experimental breast cancer vaccine already has been developed by Dr. Leishna Emens at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Also, researchers at the Mayo Clinic, supported in part by the Artemis Project of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, also are trying to develop a vaccine that will prevent breast cancer.
Hormone therapy is an option to treat breast cancer. Hormone therapy is one of the many types of treatment used in the fight against breast cancer. Hormone therapy helps address breast cancers that are affected by hormones like progesterone and estrogen. In addition to chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, hormone therapy may help some patients overcome a breast cancer diagnosis.
The National Cancer Institute notes that, while they’re effective, breast cancer treatments can cause changes that affect a woman’s physique, body image and sexuality. Some changes will be short-term, such as hair loss or fatigue. Others may be permanent, such as breast loss or scarring from lumpectomy and mastectomy. Fertility also may be affected, potentially compromising a woman’s ability to get pregnant after treatment.
Physical changes are common after cancer treatment. These strategies can help women confront the physical changes in a positive way: understand that it is OK to feel frustrated, upset or angry with the changes that have occurred; attempt to focus on how cancer treatment and the entire experience has made you stronger and more in tune with life; look for new ways to enhance your appearance, like a new hairstyle.
Breast cancer is a complicated disease, so there are differences of opinion within the medical community regarding when women should be screened. Working with a trusted physician and being open and honest about their health and their family history of breast cancer can help women make the most informed decisions about when and how often to be screened.