Amidst the changing colors of autumn, it’s impossible to miss the bright pink blanketing everything this month – from ribbons to outwear, shorts and tops to professional football players wearing pink shoes and gloves. And it’s all to raise awareness of breast cancer. Many, many people have had breast cancer touch their lives at some point, through a relative, friend, coworker, or even themselves. A diagnosis of breast cancer still strikes fear in people’s hearts. However, there is good news to focus on, even after a diagnosis.
While about 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in her lifetime, the death rate has been declining since 1989. This decline has been attributed to increased awareness, advancements in treatment, and earlier detection.
Self-examination and mammogram screening are still the best ways to monitor breast health. The American Cancer Society lists the following as potential issues to immediately follow-up on with a physician:
• swelling of all or part of the breast
• skin irritation or dimpling
• breast pain
• nipple plan or the nipple turning inward
• redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
• nipple discharge other than breast milk
• a lump in the underarm area
Keep in mind that these symptoms could also be signs of less serious conditions such as a cyst or an infection. No matter what the change is, it is essential to be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.
Check out the myths and facts below, from Prevention Magazine, to understand what breast cancer is and isn’t.
Myth: Breast cancer is only a family-related disease.
Fact: Less than 10% of cases are due to faulty breast cancer genes. Women with a 1st degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, but it is not a given. Approximately 15% of new diagnoses have breast cancer in the family.
Myth: If I don’t have a lump, I don’t have breast cancer.
Fact: Approximately 10% of those diagnosed with breast cancer have no lumps, pain, or other problems with their breasts. Among detected lumps, 80-85% are benign. More often they are noncancerous tumors or cysts. There may not be a lump indicator, or it may be deeper within the breast so it cannot be felt.
Myth: Men don’t get breast cancer.
Fact: Every year, over 2,000 men will be diagnosed and over 400 will die. While it is not nearly as prevalent for men as for women, men should still check their breasts periodically for any changes.
Myth: Mammograms can cause breast cancer.
Fact: Very low doses of radiation are used for a mammogram, so the risk from radiation exposure is extremely low. The benefits of a mammogram, which continues to be the best method for early detection, outweigh the potential for harm.
Myth: Smoking isn’t a factor in development breast cancer, only lung cancer.
Fact: Current research has confirmed that smoking is a contributing factor in breast cancer, as is second hand smoke.
Myth: Alcohol doesn’t affect the risk of breast cancer.
Fact: It just might. One drink a day has been shown to slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. More than one per day has also been shown to be a more significant risk. This is because alcohol increases estrogen in the bloodstream. Check with a doctor to discuss any limits that might be necessary.
Myth: Only women over 40 are at risk for breast cancer.
Fact: While the chances of developing breast cancer increase as a woman ages, women in their 20s and 30s are also diagnosed with it. In fact, 25% of breast cancer diagnoses are under age 50, and the death rate is higher tends to be higher.
Here are additional important facts to keep in mind:
Physical activity, even just 3 hours a week, will boost the immune system, which in turn can begin to lower the first of breast cancer. A brisk 30-minute walk can be as effective as going to a gym.
Stress does have an impact on breast cancer. Traumatic events can alter the immune system, which in turn may allow cancer cells to get established in the body. However, it is not so much the event itself but how the person handles it that is the stronger factor. Finding ways to cope with stress, and keeping your stress level in check, will have a positive impact on your health.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Let’s also consider it Take Care of Ourselves Month! Get your mammogram done. Do monthly self-exams. And visit your doctor if you have concerns or questions about your health.
For more information:
Mammograms: Who Needs Them?
Free Breast Health Guide