Sunday, October 9, 2011

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women and is the second leading cause of death, after lung cancer, in women. Every woman has a 12 percent (1 in 8) chance of developing it at some point in her life. The good news is that only about 3 percent of women will die from breast cancer. A number of risk factors will play a role in a woman's particular risk to breast cancer. Age plays perhaps the most important role in breast cancer risk as two out of three invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 and older. About 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be inherited (genetic) and the most common cause is a mutation (change) in what are called the BRCA genes. A family history of breast cancer may also be significant. Having one first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer will double a woman's risk and having 2 first-degree relatives will increase her risk about 3 x. Women who have had a longer menstrual history (i.e., before age 12 and after age 55) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. Post-menopausal hormone especially with progesterone has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer. Obesity and excess alcohol use (3 or more daily) will also increase a woman's risk of breast cancer.

Risk Factors: (you cannot change)
 Inheritance (genetics)
 Family history
 Caucasian women (slightly higher)
 Dense breast tissue
 Previous breast cancer
 Prolonged menstrual history
 Previous radiation therapy
 History of diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure

Risk Factors: (you can change)
 Excessive alcohol use
 Post-menopausal hormone therapy (especially synthetic hormones)
 Having no children or later in life (after age 30)
 Sedentary life style (just 2 hrs of exercise weekly will help)
 Night shift work (? changes  levels)
 Smoking (controversial)

Signs of breast cancer can be many and confusing. Lumps, swelling in the breasts or under the armpit are common signs of breast cancer. A lump that is painless, immobile, and has uneven (prickly) edges is more likely to be cancer than one which is painful, smooth and rounded. The outer quadrants of the breast are also more likely to develop a cancer than the inner quadrants. Changing of the skin especially around the nipple could also be a sign of breast cancer. The skin around the nipple may become reddened, scaly, flaky or pitted like an orange. Changes in the size and contour of the breast may also be a sign of breast cancer.

 Lumps (especially fixed and prickly)
 Swelling in the breast or armpits
 Skin changes (especially around the nipple)
 Inverted nipples
 Changing contour of the breast
 Persistent pain in the breast

Breast cancer screening is extremely important and should begin with self exams at an early age. Women should familiarize themselves with their own breasts and begin self exams in their twenties. Women should know how their breast normally look and feel. Breast cancer screening guidelines for women with no increased risk factors include: 1) monthly self breast exams (after menses preferable), 2) clinical breast exams every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and then every year for women over 40, 3) mammograms every 1-2 years starting at age 40 and then yearly after age 50 (a screening mammogram at age 35 may also be considered).

Mammography can detect breast cancer about 1.5 years before a women can feel a lump in her breast. Remember is that when breast cancers are detected early (stage I), the survival rate in nearly 100%. 


  1. Breast Cancer refers to the type of cancer that is characterized by the uncontrolled progression of abnormal cells located in the tissues of the breast. It is the second prevalent form of cancer affecting women with an incidence rate of one in every eight women.

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