As October begins, you may start to notice pink sports uniforms, pink social media posts, and pink decor. If you’re unfamiliar with what all the pink is for, a pink ribbon is the symbol used for Breast Cancer Awareness. A pink ribbon is often worn to acknowledge those who survived, those who did not, and those who are still fighting breast cancer. But what does breast cancer mean? Well, as the most common cancer in the United States, I’ll start by saying, it means a lot.
What is breast cancer?
Like all cancers, breast cancer is the uncontrollable growth of cells. For breast cancer, these uncontrollable cells reside in the breast tissue. Without early diagnosis, breast cancer can spread to other parts of your body through your lymph nodes and blood vessels. In 2022 alone, more than 280,000 women developed breast cancer and over 43,000 women died from it. That said, the 5-year survival rate when breast cancer is caught early is far higher than when it’s caught in the later stages. Therefore, catching this cancer early on can mean the difference between life and death.
Who is at risk?
Most breast cancer cases seen are in women over the age of 50. But with that in mind, young women and even men can develop this type of cancer. The median age women develop breast cancer is 63 and it’s generally less common to develop breast cancer the younger you are.
In terms of race and ethnicity, white women are most likely to develop breast cancer. However, Black women have a higher chance of dying from the disease. Breast cancer is often found at a younger age and more advanced-stage in Black women. They are also more likely to develop more aggressive breast cancer than other races. This difference could be due to lower access to medical care and cancer screening, as well as a less healthy lifestyle.
What are the risk factors?
There are multiple risk factors for breast cancer, but they do not always mean you will develop the disease. You can also develop breast cancer without the presence of any risk factors.
Some risk factors, such as low physical activity, obesity, taking hormones, and drinking alcohol, can be avoided by changing your lifestyle. However, some risk factors like genetics, age, family history, and breast tissue density are out of your control, so it’s good to be proactive about screening.
Can men get breast cancer?
How often should I screen for breast cancer?
Finding breast cancer early can mean a more successful treatment, so screening is important. Generally, it's recommended to receive mammograms (a breast x-ray) every two years after age 50. However, if you are at high risk of developing breast cancer, talk to your doctor about the right screening option for you.
Even with the suggested screening, it's good to remain vigilant and perform self-examinations for breast cancer. There are multiple ways you can self-examine.
How do I self-examine for breast cancer?
The most common symptom of breast cancer in both men and women is the development of a lump in your breast. Using these self-exam techniques can help you spot abnormalities in your breast. This exam can work for both men and women. Please note a self-exam should NOT replace a clinical breast exam or a mammogram.
1. Examine your breasts
In front of a mirror, place your hands on your hips and examine your breasts. Do this again with your hands raised above your head.
2. Look for these visual signs of breast cancer:
- Differences in their usual shape, color, size
- Abnormal rashes or coloring around the skin
- Nipples that have changed location or have become inverted
- Fluid leaking from nipples (with the exception of breast milk)
- Skin around the area that is dimpling or lumping
3. Feel for Lumps or Masses
Feel your breasts and underneath your armpit for lumps or masses. Hold three fingers together and press firmly against your breast. Begin moving your fingers around in quarter-sized circles across every part of your breast. Do this one time lying down and one time standing or sitting.
If you are at a higher risk for breast cancer, it's imperative to let your doctor know; they may recommend more routine screenings. You can keep track of your medical history and health records with Guava to ensure your doctor knows about all the reasons you may be at risk. However, looking for abnormalities on your own can also be valuable. Breast cancer is treatable, especially if you catch it early, so take these few extra steps to stay ahead.