October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so let’s talk about it. Thanks to scientific research and medical advances, we know so much more about breast cancer than we did say 20 years ago. Breast cancer affects both women and men, though it is a very rare form of cancer in men. 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. Though breast cancer is still the dominant cancer affecting women, the death rate of breast cancer has been steadily declining over the last 30 years mostly because of advances in treatment options and a higher rate of early detection.
Breast cancer is not caused by underwire bras, mammograms, caffeine, deodorant, microwaves, or contact with someone who has it. These are old wives tales that have been thoroughly disproven. Breast cancer like other cancers is caused by damaged and mutated cells. There are different risk factors for breast cancer, some that can be avoided and some that cannot. Here are some of the known risk factors for breast cancer:
Uncontrollable Risk Factors:
*Past breast cancer diagnosis
*Early menstruation (before 12) or late menopause (after 55)
*Having your first child at an older age or not having children
*Dense breast tissue
Avoidable Risk Factors:
*Radiation therapy to chest area before 30 years of age
*Combined Hormone Replacement Therapy
It is important to be aware that 60-70% of people diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any of these known risk factors.
Early detection is key to surviving breast cancer. Early detection of breast cancer in it’s localized stage has a 5 year survival rate of 99%. Early detection includes self monitoring and scheduling screenings and exams routinely. Self monitoring is done by performing self exams looking for lumps or abnormalities. Here is the advice on how to perform self exams properly:
1) In the Shower
With the pads/flats of your 3 middle fingers, check the entire breast and armpit area pressing down with light, medium, and firm pressure. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, hardened knot, or any other breast changes.
2) In Front of a Mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
3) Lying Down
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently covering the entire breast area and armpit.
Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
If you notice any changes or lumps, contact your physician to have them checked out. 8 out of 10 lumps are NOT cancerous, but it is good to get them checked just in case. Regular mammograms are also recommended for women at high risk and women over 40 years of age.
Breast cancer is treatable, especially when detected early, so do not be afraid or hesitant to bring up any concerns with your physician. Your questions and worries may just save your life. For more information, check out this website https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/
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