Averagely, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes. About two-thirds of women with breast cancer are 55 or older. Most of the rest are between 35 and 54. Men can get breast cancer too, but they account for less than 1% of all breast cancer cases. Among women, breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed, after skin cancer, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths, after lung cancer.
Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control. It can begin in different parts of the breast but most breast cancers begin in the ducts or lobules. Lobules are the glands that produce milk, and ducts are the pathways that bring the milk from the glands to the nipple. It can also occur in the fatty tissue or the fibrous connective tissue within the breast.
In its early stages, breast cancer may not cause any symptoms but in many cases, a new lump in the breast that was not there before is felt. However, not all lumps are cancerous. Symptoms of the most common breast cancers include a breast lump or tissue thickening that feels different than surrounding tissue, red, pitted skin over the entire breast, swelling in all or part of the breast, a nipple discharge other than breast milk, bloody discharge from the nipple, peeling, scaling, or flaking of skin on the nipple or breast, a sudden, unexplained change in the shape or size of the breast, inverted nipple, a lump or swelling under the arm. Fortunately, breast cancer is very treatable if spotted early. Localized cancer (meaning it hasn’t spread outside the breast) can usually be treated before it spreads. Once the cancer begins to spread, treatment becomes more complicated.
There are several risk factors that increase the chances of getting breast cancer. However, having any of these doesn’t mean one will definitely develop the disease. Some risk factors such as age, having a dense breast, gender, genes, early menstruation, and family history cannot be modified but there are modifiable risk factors such as excessive alcohol intake, hormone therapy, obesity etc.
Following a healthy lifestyle, getting regular screenings and being careful of the risk factors can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Having regular mammograms (a screening method) may not prevent breast cancer, but it can help reduce the odds that it will go undetected. In addition to mammograms, Breast Self-Examination (BSE) is another way to watch for signs of breast cancer. It’s best to do this exam once a month, at the same time each month. The exam can help one become familiar with how the breasts normally look and feel so that one is aware of any changes that occur.
If an unusual lump or spot in the breast is detected or any other symptoms of breast cancer, make an appointment to see a physician immediately. Chances are good that it’s not breast cancer. For instance, there are many other potential causes for breast lumps. But if the problem does turn out to be cancer, keep in mind that early treatment is the key. Early-stage breast cancer can often be treated and cured if found quickly enough. The longer breast cancer is allowed to grow, the more difficult treatment becomes.
Breast cancer survival rates vary widely based on many factors. Two of the most important factors are the type of cancer present and the stage of the cancer at the time a diagnosis is received. If a breast cancer diagnosis has already been given, keep in mind that cancer treatments continue to improve, as do outcomes. We can win the battle against breast cancer, let us do all that we can.
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