After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in the United States, according to American Cancer Society (ACS), with one in eight women at risk of developing it. ACS states that it’s also the second leading cause of death in women, after lung cancer.
When you know more, you’re better equipped to take the steps needed towards improving your own health. Here are some facts that every person should know about breast cancer.
- There are different signs and symptoms that may indicate breast cancer. A lump or mass is the most common symptom, according to American Cancer Society. But other symptoms in the breast could include swelling, dimpling of the skin, pain, nipple retraction, nipple discharge and swollen lymph nodes. In addition, skin changes such as itching, irritation or rash may be an early symptom of a type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer, which is an aggressive and fast-growing breast cancer.
- Breast cancer doesn’t just impact women. Men can get breast cancer, too, although it’s rare. Regardless of your gender, if you notice a lump or other changes in your breast, you should reach out to your doctor immediately.
- The risk for breast cancer increases with age. It’s most common in women who are 50 and older. Still, it’s important to remember a breast cancer diagnosis can happen at any age. If you experience changes in your breast, don’t dismiss it. Talk to your health care provider.
- Some people are more at risk for different cancers because of their genetics. Two genes that are helpful in fighting cancer are called BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) and BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2). When those genes change, or mutate, however, they may not work properly, and can raise the risk of a person getting different cancers, including breast cancer. Certain groups of people, such as people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, are more likely to have BRCA mutations, and should talk with their doctor about their risk.
- Racial disparities are an unfortunate reality with breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, Black women are 40 percent more likely to die because of breast cancer than white women; and if they’re over 50, they’re twice as likely to die.
- If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may be at a higher risk of getting it, yourself. According to National Breast Cancer Foundation, about 10 percent of people who were given a breast cancer diagnosis have a family history of it. That said, even if it runs in your family, there’s no need to panic. NBCF recommends that if you have a mother, daughter or sister who developed breast cancer before they turned 50, you may want to consider starting screening 10 years before that age. More distant family members with breast cancer may also increase your risk, but slightly. Be sure and share your health history with your health care provider.
- There are steps you can take to lower your risk for breast cancer. Adopting healthy habits is a good place to start. The Mayo Clinic recommends taking actions such as limiting alcohol, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and, for new moms, breastfeeding, to reduce your breast cancer risk.
- Regular screening is important. If you detect breast cancer early, you may have more treatment options. The American Cancer Society recommends the following mammogram guidelines for women who have an average risk of breast cancer (a mammogram is an x-ray of the breast):
- At age 40 to 44: consider the option to start scheduling mammogram appointments every year.
- At age 45 to 54: schedule a mammogram every year.
- At age 55 and older: continue annual mammograms or opt for one every other year.
Do something kind for yourself; make an appointment with your health care provider to talk about your risk for breast cancer. While you’re there, ask for prevention tips and discuss whether and when to schedule a screening. Commit to playing an active role in monitoring and improving your health.