Breast cancer is a potentially deadly disease that affects approximately 245,000 women each year in the U.S. and causes more than 44,000 to lose their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additionally, it is estimated that one in eight women in the United States (12%) will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s vitally important to have a better understanding of the symptoms, causes and importance of early detection that in many cases can be the difference between life and death, according to a health expert.
“Next to skin cancer, breast cancer impacts more American women than any other form of cancer,” said Dr. Paula Nudell with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “Early detection saves lives because it is the best way to diagnose the disease when it’s easier to treat, and before it reaches an advanced stage that often can lead to more serious complications, including death.”
Most breast cancers are found in women who are age 50 or older, but breast cancer also affects younger women, according to the CDC. About 10% of all new cases of breast cancer in the U.S. are found in women younger than 45 years of age. Men also can get breast cancer, but it’s not very common. Less than 1% 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 who are 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.
“Although breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, it can help find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat, said Dr. Nudell, who is a physician in charge at the Breast Center at Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills Medical Center. “Talk to your doctor about getting a mammogram.”
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.
“If you have any signs that worry you, see your doctor right away,” Dr. Nudell said. “Most women who get breast cancer have no known risk factors and no history of the disease in their families. So, 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:
• If you have a family history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about other ways to lower your risk.
• Keep a healthy weight.
• Exercise regularly.
• Don’t drink alcohol, or limit alcoholic drinks.
• 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.
• If possible, breastfeed your children.
“Staying healthy throughout your life will lower your risk of developing breast cancer and other diseases, and will also improve your chances of surviving cancer if it occurs,” Dr. Nudell said.