Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know
Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the breast, it is called breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women.
Factors which increases the risk for Breast Cancer?
If you have breast cancer risk factors, talk with your doctor about ways you can lower your risk and about screening for breast cancer.
Risk factors include—
Getting older. The risk for breast cancer increases with age; most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50.
Genetic mutations. Inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who have inherited these genetic changes are at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Early menstrual period. Women who start their periods before age 12 are exposed to hormones longer, raising the risk for breast cancer by a small amount.
Late or no pregnancy. Having the first pregnancy after age 30 and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
Starting menopause after age 55. Like starting one’s period early, being exposed to estrogen hormones for a longer time later in life also raises the risk of breast cancer.
Not being physically active. Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
Being overweight or obese after menopause. Older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight.
Having dense breasts. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.
Using combination hormone therapy. Taking hormones to replace missing estrogen and progesterone in menopause for more than five years raises the risk for breast cancer. The hormones that have been shown to increase risk are estrogen and progestin when taken together.
Taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills). Certain forms of oral contraceptive pills have been found to raise breast cancer risk.
Personal history of breast cancer. Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time.
Personal history of certain non-cancerous breast diseases. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
Family history of breast cancer. A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a mother, sister, or daughter (first-degree relative) or multiple family members on either her mother’s or father’s side of the family who have had breast cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk.
Previous treatment using radiation therapy. Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts (like for treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) before age 30 have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.
Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was given to some pregnant women in the United States between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, have a higher risk. Women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them are also at risk.
Drinking alcohol. Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks.
What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
- New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
. • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
What you Can Do to Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer?
Many factors over the course of a lifetime can influence your breast cancer risk. You can’t 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 (at least four hours a week).
Research shows that lack of nighttime sleep can be a risk factor.
Don’t drink alcohol, or limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one per day.
Avoid exposure to chemicals that can cause cancer (carcinogens) and chemicals that interfere with the normal function of the body.
Limit exposure to radiation from medical imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, and PET scans if not medically necessary.
If you are taking, or have been told to take, hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives (birth control pills), ask your doctor about the risks and find out if it is right for you.
Breastfeed any children you may have, if possible.
If you have a family history of breast cancer or inherited changes in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, you may be at high risk for getting breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about more ways to lower your risk.
What Is Breast Cancer Screening?
Breast cancer screening means checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before she has any symptoms.
Breast Cancer Screening Test
A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast. Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Most women who are 50 to 74 years old should have a screening mammogram every two years.
If you are 40 to 49 years old, or think you may have a higher risk of breast cancer, ask your doctor when to have a screening mammogram
Every screening test has benefits and risks, which is why it’s important to talk to your doctor before getting any screening test, like a mammogram. The benefit of screening is finding cancer early, when it’s easier to treat.
Tips for Getting a Mammogram
Try not to have your mammogram the week before you get your period or during your period. Your breasts may be tender or swollen then.
On the day of your mammogram, don’t wear deodorant, perfume, or powder. These products can show up as white spots on the X-ray.
How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?
Doctors often use additional tests to find or diagnose breast cancer. They may refer women to a breast specialist or a surgeon. This does not mean that she has cancer or that she needs surgery. These doctors are experts in diagnosing breast problems.
Breast ultrasound. A machine that uses sound waves to make detailed pictures, called sonograms, of areas inside the breast.
Diagnostic mammogram. If you have a problem in your breast, such as lumps, or if an area of the breast looks abnormal on a screening mammogram, doctors may have you get a diagnostic mammogram. This is a more detailed X-ray of the breast.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A kind of body scan that uses a magnet linked to a computer. The MRI scan will make detailed pictures of areas inside the breast.
Biopsy. This is a test that removes tissue or fluid from the breast to be looked at under a microscope and do more testing. There are different kinds of biopsies (for example, fine-needle aspiration, core biopsy, or open biopsy
How Is Breast Cancer Treated?
Breast cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of breast cancer and how far it has spread. People with breast cancer often get more than one kind of treatment.
Surgery. An operation where doctors cut out cancer tissue.
Chemotherapy. Using special medicines to shrink or kill the cancer cells. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins, or sometimes both.
Hormonal therapy. Blocks cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow.
Biological therapy. Works with your body’s immune system to help it fight cancer cells or to control side effects from other cancer treatments.
Radiation therapy. Using high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill the cancer cells.
Doctors from different specialties often work together to treat breast cancer. Surgeons are doctors who perform operations. Medical oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with medicine. Radiation oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with radiation.