Each year, October is designated as Breast Cancer Awareness month. Women of all ages can develop this devastating cancer, but it does become more common as we grow older. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world, responsible for 458,000 deaths worldwide each year.
Currently, research has yet to pinpoint the exact causes of most cases of breast cancer. Genetic links have been discovered in a minority of cases, but for most patients, the cause is unknown. Therefore, awareness focuses on prevention and early recognition of the disease. When caught early, breast cancer is treatable and survivable.
Warning signs of breast cancer include:
- A change in how your breasts look and feel
- A change in the appearance or feeling of your nipples
- Nipple discharge
- Lumps, hard knots, or thickening in breast tissue
- Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening of breast tissue
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin on the breast
- A change in the size or shape of your breasts
- A rash or sore on the nipple
- Nipple or other part of the breast “pulls in”
- A new pain on the breasts that does not go away
It is important to note that these symptoms can appear in one or both breasts. Also, though it is much more rare, men can contract breast cancer too!
Please know that if these symptoms appear, they do not automatically signal breast cancer. In fact, a more benign and simple condition is more often to blame. Regardless, it is important to report these symptoms to your healthcare provider immediately, so that the possibility of breast cancer can be ruled out.
Early detection is key. Routine screenings for breast cancer are perhaps even more important than learning the potential signs. With regular preventive screenings, we can often identify the development of cancer early in the process, before symptoms even appear. The American Cancer Society recommends mammography every two years for women over age 55, or annually if you have reason to be concerned about cancer (due to family history or other factors).
Talk to your healthcare provider about your own risk of breast cancer, which can vary according to genetics and lifestyle factors. Schedule a mammogram if you haven’t had one in the past two years, and please do follow your physician’s advice regarding cancer prevention.