With October observed as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important for women to have a better understanding of this potentially deadly disease that affects approximately 245,000 women each year in the U.S. and causes more than 44,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Because one in eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, knowing the symptoms, causes and importance of early detection can be the difference between life and death, according to health experts.
“It’s vitally important for women to better understand this disease because breast cancer impacts more American women than any other form of cancer,” said Dr. Reena K. Vora, chief of hematology/oncology for Kaiser Permanente’s San Bernardino County Service Area. “That’s why early detection is so vitally important, because it saves lives. It’s the best way to diagnose the disease when it’s easier to treat. That’s crucial as breast cancer in its advanced stage can often lead to more serious complications, including death.”
Although most breast cancers are found in women who are age 50 or older, younger women are not immune to this disease, Dr. Vora cautioned.
According to the CDC, about 10 percent of all new cases of breast cancer in the U.S. are found in women younger than age 45. Men also can get breast cancer, but it’s not as common. Less than 1 percent of breast cancers occur in men, the CDC reports.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an organization made up of doctors and disease experts who look at research on the best way to prevent diseases and make recommendations on how doctors can help patients avoid diseases or find them early, recommends that women who are ages 50 to 74 and are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every two years. Women age 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor about when to start and how often to get a mammogram.
Before age 50, the USPSTF encourages women to weigh the benefits and risks of screening tests when deciding whether to begin getting mammograms before age 50.
—– WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
According to the CDC, there are different symptoms of breast cancer, which include:
• Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
• Pain in any area of the breast.
• Nipple discharge other than breast milk (including blood).
• A new lump in the breast or underarm.
“You should not delay seeing a doctor if you have any signs that worry you,” Dr. Vora said. “It’s important to be vigilant and do what you can to lower your breast cancer risk.”
—– BREAST CANCER RISKS
The CDC notes many factors over the course of a lifetime can influence your breast cancer risk. You may not be able to change some factors, such as getting older or your family history, but you can help lower your risk of breast cancer by taking care of your health in the following ways:
• Keep a healthy weight.
• Exercise regularly.
• If you have a family history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about other ways to lower your risk.
• If you are taking, or have been told to take hormone replacement or birth control pills, ask your doctor about the risks and find out if it is right for you.
• Don’t drink alcohol, or limit alcoholic drinks.
• If possible, breastfeed your children.
“Try to adopt a healthy lifestyle throughout your life as that will lower your risk of developing breast cancer and other diseases, including other forms of cancer,” Dr. Vora said. “It will also improve your chances of surviving cancer if it does occur.”