October marks Breast Cancer Awareness month and no matter your gender, it’s important to be informed about this type of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer to be diagnosed among women. Being proactive with early detection and knowing potential risk factors could not only save your life but save the lives of those close to you. We’d like to share some quick facts that you need to know about breast cancer.
What is breast cancer?
Cancer occurs when there is an excessive number of cells grow uncontrollably in the body and destroy body tissue. The American Cancer Society defines breast cancer as “a group of diseases in which cells in breast tissue change and divide uncontrolled, typically resulting in a lump or mass”. It is most common in women and can also rarely occur in men.
What are the signs of breast cancer?
Not only is it important to regularly get breast cancer screenings by a medical professional, but it is also important to routinely do breast self-exams. A BSE is something you can do from the comfort of your home or in the shower. If you notice anything abnormal such as a lump, it is imperative that you seek help from a health care provider. Other symptoms of breast cancer, according to the CDC, can include:
- Nipple discharge
- Swelling of the breast
- Redness in the nipple area or breast
- Breast pain
- Change of shape or size of the breast
- Irritation of breast skin
- Dimpling of breast skin
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or have any concern about your breasts, be sure to contact your doctor immediately.
What are risk factors associated with breast cancer?
While not a major risk factor, family history can play a part in being diagnosed with breast cancer. According to cancer.org, 5-10% of breast cancer is hereditary. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of your family history. Other factors that can put you at risk include:
- Not enough psychical exercise
- Older age, as breast cancer is commonly diagnosed in women after age 50
- Consumption of alcohol
- Taking hormones
- Pregnancy history as well as menstrual history
- Low Vitamin D levels
What does treatment look like?
Treatment for any type of cancer is typically expensive and extensive. Additionally, treatment varies depending on the stage of cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are just a few examples of treatment for breast cancer. Many people think that chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the same, but there is a difference. The purpose of both treatments is to kill or shrink cancer cells. Chemotherapy uses oral and intravenous drugs to kill the cells, while radiation therapy uses radiation to disrupt DNA to stop cell division, which results in cell death.
Lumpectomy and mastectomy are the two surgeries used to treat breast cancer. During a lumpectomy, cancer tissue is removed from the breast. This procedure is also known as breast-conserving because only a portion of the breast is removed. Lumpectomy is typically done in the early stage of breast cancer and is followed by radiation therapy to reduce the chance of the cancer returning.
A mastectomy is performed when a patient can’t be treated with a lumpectomy, if the patient has a tumor larger than 5 centimeters, or to prevent the cancer from returning. It may also come down to the personal preference of the cancer patient. During a mastectomy, the entire breast is removed. Many women choose to get a mastectomy as a means of getting rid of the cancer as quickly as possible.
Prevention and early detection are key.
Breast cancer affects millions of women around the world yearly. Because of its prevalence, it’s important to know the best methods of practice for early detection and prevention. One of the most helpful things you can do is have regular screenings and do your breast self-exams once a month. At the age of 45, you should especially be getting yearly mammograms.
Another useful action you can take is to enroll in cancer insurance. Upon a positive diagnosis of cancer, cancer insurance can help alleviate the financial stress that comes with having cancer such as funding your treatments, lodging, transportation, and much more. Note that you may not qualify for cancer insurance for 12 months if you have a pre-existing condition (such as cancer) when enrolling in the benefit, so it is imperative that you are proactive in enrolling in cancer insurance. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a time to educate and support survivors and their families. Please join us in making October a month of hope, strength, and resilience for those affected by breast cancer.