Breast Cancer: Your Questions Answered
October 14, 2022
Reviewed and Approved by Dr. Laurie Evans, Breast Surgeon
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is observed nationally every October to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer and provide education on the most common symptoms and associated risk factors for the disease. By staying informed and taking preventive action to fight breast cancer, we can help to minimize the effect this disease has on women in our communities.
Why is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so important?
The average woman’s risk of breast cancer is around 13 percent in the U.S. – meaning about one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. In fact, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among American women, besides skin cancers. Breast cancer is also the second leading cause of cancer death in women, superseded only by lung cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 264,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the U.S., and roughly 42,000 women die as a result.
What are the risk factors?
Arguably the biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer is aging, but it’s important to remember that all women (as well as men) – no matter their age – can develop breast cancer. This means you may need to begin annual screenings sooner if you are at higher risk of developing the disease. Important risk factors to consider include genetic mutations, having dense breasts, a family history of breast cancer, a lack of physical activity, and being overweight after menopause, among others. Talk with your provider about your risk factors and ask about the best time for you to begin regular breast health screenings.
What are the symptoms?
There are many types of breast cancer, and they can present with a variety of warning signs. Some of these signs include a new lump in the breast or underarm, any change in the size or shape of the breast, breast skin irritation, indentation, and discharge other than breast milk. Very rarely is breast pain associated with breast cancer. Although there are many different symptoms of breast cancer, some people diagnosed with breast cancer have no signs at all. That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of your health and take the proper steps to prevent breast cancer, including having annual mammograms.
What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is a simple, routine screening recommended for women 40 and older that helps detect breast cancer earlier than the occurrence of symptoms. A mammogram screening only takes a few precious moments, once a year, and is one of the best ways to detect breast cancer before lumps can be felt or other symptoms appear. Mammograms have been proven to help reduce deaths from breast cancer by detecting the disease early, when you’re more likely to have easier and more effective treatment.
What else can I do?
In addition to annual mammograms, there are a few proactive things you can do to help lower your risk for breast cancer, including regular exercise, adequate sleep, healthy eating, limited alcohol intake and avoidance of chemicals that can cause cancer. Clinical breast exams and self-exams are also excellent secondary methods for identifying warning signs like lumps and new changes. Self-exams also cost nothing and are easy to do!
For more information on breast cancer symptoms, risk factors and screening methods, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/ or www.breastcancer.org. If you would like to schedule your annual mammogram or talk with a provider about your breast health, Lourdes Health can help. Visit LourdesHealth.org/Find-a-Doctor.