October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
For many years, October has been synonymous with breast cancer and helping to raise awareness for the thousands of women who are diagnosed each year. It is a known fact that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. And although death rates across the world have been on the decline since 1989, there is still cause for concern. Due largely in part to treatment improvements and early detection methods, there’s new hope for all women who are at risk of breast cancer. This article is meant to highlight early onset symptoms and shine a light on risk factors that all women need to be aware of to avoid ever being diagnosed.
Signs of Breast Cancer
Most times, there are no physical or visible symptoms of breast cancer, which makes regular screenings even more important for women 40 years of age or older. Common symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Pain or swelling of the breast
- Irritation of the skin
- Pain or redness of the nipple
- Discharge from the nipple (other than milk)
Who is at Risk?
Let’s now focus on what puts women at higher liability for cancer, and more specifically, cancer of the breast. While there are traits that are simply based on an individual’s genetics or family history, there are others related to lifestyle factors. The following are a list of just some of the attributes. If you fit into any of these categories, you should consider visiting with your physician and receive a breast cancer screening.
The risk of developing breast cancer has historically tended to increases with age. Most cases of breast cancers aren’t diagnosed until age 50 and older. As mentioned earlier, any woman age 40 or older should receive screenings annually or biannually to ensure healthy breasts.
Nearly 10% of all breast cancer diagnoses are considered hereditary and are a result of genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, which is passed down from a parent. These proteins, which help repair damaged DNA, play a role in ensuring the stability of each cell’s genetic material. When either BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are altered, such that they do not function correctly, DNA damage is not repaired properly. As a result, cells are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations that can lead to cancer.
Certain behaviors, such as excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and even working late nights may lead to an increased risk of breast cancer.
Women who experience menopause later than the average age range have an increased risk due to extended hormone exposure. The average age of U.S. women at the time of menopause is 51 years. The most common age range at which women begin menopause is 48-55 years.
If a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) has had breast cancer, your risk nearly doubles. If two first-degree relatives have had it, your risk triples.
How can women reduce their risk?
There are no guaranteed behaviors or actions that have been proven to prevent breast cancer entirely. However, there are best practices and preventative measures you can follow to limit your risk.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Women who become pregnant at some point in their lives have tended to have a lower rate of breast cancer. Additionally, those that choose to breastfeed their children have also been shown to have a lower risk of the disease.
Women with a heightened risk of breast cancer may choose to have their breasts reduced through a prophylactic mastectomy. Having one’s ovaries removed may also decrease the risk of breast cancer by reducing the amount of estrogen in the body. These are both considered very serious surgeries and should be discussed at length with multiple physicians prior to any procedure.
Maintaining a healthy diet and weight, avoiding smoking, and limiting your alcohol consumption can reduce your risk of developing the disease.
If this article has shown that you are at an increased risk of breast cancer, it is essential that you receive regularly screenings for the condition which can help to detect even the earliest stages of cancer and prevent it from spreading. Take the time out of your busy schedule as a mom, working professional, or beloved family member to ensure your long-term health. Your family, friends and co-workers depend on you, and similarly, so does your body! Make the choice to get screened and find out your level of risk for breast cancer this October.