Approximately 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer within their lifetime. Each year in the United States, more than 250,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer; 42,000 women die from the disease.
Men also get breast cancer, but it is not very common. Approximately 2,600 men are diagnosed with breast cancer annually in the United States.
While deaths from breast cancer have declined over time, it remains the second most common form of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death overall among women.
The good news is that most individuals can survive breast cancer if found and treated early. Education is key. The more we know about our bodies and health, the better chance we have of finding cancer early, should it occur, and improving survival.
Like all cancers early detection is the best defense. Every woman needs to perform monthly breast exams. Monthly breast exams allow a woman to know how her breasts feel and thereby make it easier to recognize any changes in the breast over time that may indicate the presence of cancer. Warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:
- Any lump or swelling of the breast or armpit
- Thickening of any part of the breast
- Skin dimpling where the skin may look like an orange peel
- Redness, dryness or flakiness of the breast or nipple
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple discharge (excluding breast milk) including blood
Women should also know their personal health history and how it may impact their risk for developing breast cancer. While these risk factors cannot be changed, it is important to be aware. Risk factors include:
- Age – 50 years old and older
- Dense breasts – breasts that have more glandular and fibrous tissue
- Genetic mutations – inherited mutations in certain genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2)
- Early menstruation – before the age of 12
- Age of menopause – starting menopause after the age of 55
- Personal history of breast cancer – once a woman has breast cancer the more likely she may get it again.
- Family history of breast cancer – having a first-degree relative such as mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer
- Radiation exposure to the chest
Overall good health plays a vital role in breast cancer prevention. There are modifiable risk factors that can reduce a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer such as:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Being physically active
- Limiting hormone replacement therapy (those that include both progesterone and estrogen) to not more than 5 years
- Limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption
This October take the time to remind the women (and men) in your life to do a self-breast examination and to talk with their healthcare provider about their risks for developing breast cancer. While there is no proven way to prevent breast cancer, routine examinations, maintaining good health and following your doctor’s recommendation for diagnostic screening can help detect cancer early.
We support our family members, friends and colleagues who are fighting this disease, those in remission and we remember those who we have lost to breast cancer.