A Few Things Every Woman Should Know About Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer for women after skin cancer, affecting 1 in 8 women. Knowing a few important facts can help women be aware. Here is what we think you should know.
Know the Stats
According to the American Cancer Society, about 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history. If you have a first-degree relative (such as a mother, sister or daughter) who has had breast cancer, your chances for developing breast cancer increase. However, it is important to remember that family history alone is not the leading indicator.
Know the Signs
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or round. It is important to have any new breast mass, lump, or a breast change checked out by a healthcare professional.
Additional signs and symptoms to watch for:
- Swelling of all parts of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
- Skin irritation or dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
It is also important to know that breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling in these areas.
Know the Screenings
A mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breast, is one of the best ways to detect breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that “all women should begin having yearly mammograms by age 45, and can change to having mammograms every other year beginning at age 55. Women should have the choice to start screening with yearly mammograms as early as age 40 if they want to.” It is important to have regular mammograms to lower your risk of a breast cancer.
Clinical Breast Exam
A clinical breast exam is done by a healthcare provider. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends “a trained provider carefully feel your breasts, underarm and the area just below your clavicle (breastbone) for any changes or abnormalities (such as a lump).” This is normally done during a regular checkup. If your healthcare provider does not offer one, you can request one or ask for a referral to a provider who does offer them.
Being familiar with how your breasts look and feel can help you discover any changes that may be concerning. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.” About once a month, take time to examine both the look and the feel of your breasts. Performing a self-exam can be done in the shower, in the mirror or while lying down. To learn more about how to perform a breast self-exam, click here.
Together, mammograms, breast exams and self-checks are the best ways currently available to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages.
Know the Survival Rates
The good news is that early detection really does saves lives. The 5-year survival rate for women with stage 0 or stage 1 breast cancer is close to 100%. With education and by following the recommended early detection guidelines, the U.S. death rates from breast cancer have dropped 39% since 1989. Encourage the women in your life to take control of their breast health with the three-pronged approach to screening.
For more information on breast health awareness, check out this video from The National Breast Cancer Foundation or speak with your healthcare provider.