October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an effort created to raise awareness of the disease and help those affected through early detection, education, and support services. Abarca stands committed to the cause.
As of 2017, Breast Cancer (BC) is the most common cancer among American women, with an age-adjusted rate of 125.1 per 100,000 women of all races. It occurs when some breast cells begin to grow abnormally. These cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells and continue to accumulate, forming a lump or mass. Cells may spread or metastasize through your breast to your lymph nodes or other parts of your body.
Warning Signs of Breast Cancer
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control, different people have different breast cancer symptoms, and some do not have any signs or symptoms at all.
The top 8 warning signs of breast cancer are:
- New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
- Any change in the size or shape of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast.
It is important to keep in mind that these symptoms can occur with other conditions that are not cancer. Thus, screenings are essential and can save your life.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Though many people believe that breast cancer is most linked to genetics, this is actually not the case. Only 5% to 10% of BC cases are believed to be caused by abnormal genes. According to medical epidemiologists, any woman can get breast cancer. Still, if you have a strong family history of the disease or inherited changes in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, your risk of getting BC is higher.
The most significant factors that influence your risk include being a woman and getting older, with most breast cancers being found in women 50 years old or older, but BC also affects younger women. About 11% of all new breast cancer cases in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age.
Other risk factors that may increase a person’s risk of breast cancer include previous treatment using radiation therapy, the drug diethylstilbestrol, smoking, being exposed to cancer-causing chemicals, and changes in other hormones due to night shift work. However, the truth is that some women will get breast cancer even without any other risk factors that they know of. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease, and not all risk factors have the same effect.
Lower your Risk of Breast Cancer
You can’t change some factors such as getting older or your family history, but you can help lower your risk of breast cancer by taking care of your health in the following ways:
- Keep a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Don’t drink alcohol, or limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one per day.
- Breastfeed your children, if possible.
Also, if you are taking or have been told to take hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills, ask your doctor about the risks and find out if it is right for you. If you have a family history of BC or inherited changes in your genes, talk to your doctor about other ways to lower your risk.
Being familiar with how your breasts look and feel can help you notice symptoms such as lumps, pain, or changes in size that may be of concern. In the case that a woman finds a lump in her breast, it is highly recommended that she receives a mammogram to determine whether or not the cells are benign or malignant.
What is a mammogram & when should I get one?
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast and the best way to find breast cancer early when it is easier to treat, and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. Click here to learn more about what a mammogram is.
The USPSTF recommends that women who are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every two years. Likewise, women who are 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider about when to start and how often to get a mammogram. Click here to learn more about breast cancer recommendation screenings.
Abarca is dedicated to finding a better way in healthcare and solutions to improve women’s health and quality of life in our communities. Staying healthy throughout your life will lower your risk of developing cancer and improve your chances of surviving if it does occur. By bringing awareness to breast cancer, we can save lives. Early detection is essential in this fight.
If you or someone you know has breast cancer, various treatments are available and depend on cancer type and level. The CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides breast and cervical cancer screenings and diagnostic services to women across the United States. Find a screening program near you or learn more about the disease here.
*This blog was written by Lillian Colón López, MPH, Pharm. D., Clinical Client Advisor at Abarca Health.
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease and Control