October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a worldwide effort created to highlight the importance of breast awareness, education and research. Join Abarca in this cause to help prevent, detect, and treat BC, as we also celebrate the many brave men and women who have survived this vicious disease.
After skin cancer, breast cancer (BC) is the most common cancer among American women (nearly 245,000 cases of BC are diagnosed annually) and the most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women. Breast Cancer occurs when some breast cells begin to grow abnormally. These cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells do and continue to accumulate, forming a lump or mass. These cells may spread (metastasize) through your breast to your lymph nodes or to other parts of your body.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, different people have different symptoms of breast cancer, and some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all.
Some 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 lives.
Though many people believe that BC is most linked to genetics, this is actually not the case. In fact, only 5-10% of BC cases are believed to be caused by abnormal genes. According to David Capó, Medical Epidemiologist at Abarca, any woman can get breast cancer, but if you have a strong family history of the disease or inherited abnormalities in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, your risk of getting it 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, though it also affects younger women. About 11% of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age.
Other risk factors include:
● Previous treatment using radiation therapy. Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts (like for treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) before age 30 have a higher risk of getting BC later in life.
● Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was given to some pregnant women in the U.S. between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, have a higher risk. Women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them are also at risk.
● Research suggests that other factors such as smoking, being exposed to cancer-causing chemicals, and changes in other hormones due to night shift working also may increase BC risk. (Source: American Cancer Society)
The truth of the matter is, some women will get breast cancer even without any apparent risk factors. Likewise, having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease, and not all risk factors have the same effect.
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 drink per day (12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine).
● In many cases, BC grows with hormones such as estrogen. If you are taking, or have been told to take, hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives (birth control pills), ask your doctor about potential safety risks. It is important to evaluate if the benefits of using hormone therapies outweigh potential risks.
● If possible, breastfeed your children.
● If you have a family history of BC or inherited abnormalities in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, talk to your doctor about other ways to lower your risk (i.e. Medicines that block or decrease estrogen in your body and/or surgery, such as a Mastectomy, removal of breast tissue).
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 receive a mammogram (an X-ray of the breast) to determine whether or not the cells are benign or malignant.
Mammograms are 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 death from breast cancer. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Cancer Society, women aged 50-74 should have a mammogram performed every year. Depending on individual risks, younger women may also need to have regular mammograms as recommended by a doctor.
Abarca is dedicated to finding a better way in healthcare and powering solutions to improve the health and quality of life of women 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, and educating women on early detection, we can save lives.
If you or someone you know has breast cancer, know that support is out there through support groups, financial assistance and community programs. Rest assure that there are various treatments available depending on the type and level of the cancer –find out which is right for you. The CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) provides breast and cervical cancer screenings and diagnostic services to low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women across the U.S. You can use this link to find a screening program near you.
For more information about breast cancer prevention, visit Breast Cancer (PDQ). You can also be a part of finding the next breakthrough cancer treatment by donating to the American Cancer Society. Beating cancer takes every approach, every idea, and every person.