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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer is the second most common kind of cancer in women.

About 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point.

The good news is that most women can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early. A mammogram – the screening test for breast cancer – can help find breast cancer early when it’s easier to treat.

This October,  Community Health Centers of the Rutland Region is proud to participate in National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is the second most common kind of cancer in women. About 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point.

The good news is that most women can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early.

  • If you are a woman age 40 to 49, talk with your doctor about when to start getting mammograms and how often to get them.
  • If you are a woman age 50 to 74, be sure to get a mammogram every 2 years. You may also choose to get them more often.

Talk to a doctor about your risk for breast cancer, especially if a close family member of yours had breast or ovarian cancer.

Your doctor can help you decide when and how often to get mammograms.

Resources

Different people have different symptoms of breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all. A person may find out they have breast cancer after a routine mammogram.

Some warning signs of breast cancer are—

  • 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.
  • Pain in any area of the breast.

Keep in mind that these symptoms can happen with other conditions that are not cancer.

If you have any signs or symptoms that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away.

What Is a Normal Breast?

No breast is typical. What is normal for you may not be normal for another woman. Most women say their breasts feel lumpy or uneven. The way your breasts look and feel can be affected by getting your period, having children, losing or gaining weight, and taking certain medications. Breasts also tend to change as you age. For more information, see the National Cancer Institute’s Breast Changes and Conditions.

What Do Lumps in My Breast Mean?

Many conditions can cause lumps in the breast, including cancer. But most breast lumps are caused by other medical conditions. The two most common causes of breast lumps are fibrocystic breast condition and cysts. Fibrocystic condition causes noncancerous changes in the breast that can make them lumpy, tender, and sore. Cysts are small fluid-filled sacs that can develop in the breast.

Studies have shown that your risk for breast cancer is due to a combination of factors. The main factors that influence your risk include being a woman and getting older. Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older.

Some women will get breast cancer even without any other risk factors that they know of. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease, and not all risk factors have the same effect. Most women have some risk factors, but most women do not get 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.

Research suggests that other factors such as smoking, being exposed to chemicals that can cause cancer, and night shift working also may increase breast cancer risk.

Breast cancer screening means checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease. The Breast Cancer Screening Chart[PDF-180KB] compares recommendations from several leading organizations. All women need to be informed by their health care provider about the best screening options for them. When you are told about the benefits and risks and decide with your health care provider what screening test, if any, is right for you, this is called informed and shared decision-making.

Although breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, it can help find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. Talk to your doctor about which breast cancer screening tests are right for you, and when you should have them.

Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is 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.

The USPSTF recommends that women who are 50 to 74 years old 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 or other health care professional about when to start and how often to get a mammogram. Women should weigh the benefits and risks of screening tests when deciding whether to begin getting mammograms at age 40.

Breast Cancer Screening Tests

Mammogram

mammogram is an X-ray 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. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.

Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

A breast MRI uses magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the breast. MRI is used along with mammograms to screen women who are at high risk for getting breast cancer. Because breast MRIs may appear abnormal even when there is no cancer, it is not used for women at average risk.

Where Can I Go to Get Screened?

You can get screened for breast cancer at a clinic, hospital, or doctor’s office. If you want to be screened for breast cancer, call your doctor’s office. They can help you schedule an appointment.

Most health insurance plans are required to cover mammograms every one to two years for women beginning at age 40 with no out-of-pocket cost (like a co-pay, deductible, or co-insurance).

Are you worried about the cost? CDC offers free or low-cost mammograms. Find out if you qualify.

Other Exams

At this time, the best way to find breast cancer is with a mammogram.

Clinical Breast Exam

clinical breast exam is an examination by a doctor or nurse, who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or other changes.

Breast Self-Awareness

Being familiar with how your breasts look and feel can help you notice symptoms such as lumps, pain, or changes in size that may be of concern. These could include changes found during a breast self-exam. You should report any changes that you notice to your doctor or health care provider.

Having a clinical breast exam or doing a breast self-exam has not been found to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.

If you have a family history of breast cancer or inherited changes in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, you may have a high risk of getting breast cancer. You may also have a high risk for ovarian cancer. Talk to your doctor about these ways of reducing your risk, including any physical and emotional side effects from the surgeries—

  • Antiestrogens or other medicines that block or decrease estrogen in your body.
  • Surgery to reduce your risk of breast cancer
    • Prophylactic (preventive) mastectomy (removal of breast tissue).
    • Prophylactic (preventive) salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes).

It is important that you know your family history and talk to your doctor about how you can lower your risk. For more information about breast cancer prevention, visit Breast Cancer (PDQ): Prevention.

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—

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.

Staying healthy throughout your life will lower your risk of developing cancer, and improve your chances of surviving cancer if it occurs.

Not counting some kinds of skin cancer, breast cancer in the United States is—

  • The most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity.
  • The most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women.
  • The second most common cause of death from cancer among white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.

For more information, visit Cancer Among Women.

In 2014 (the most recent year numbers are available)—

  • 236,968 women and 2,141 men in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • 41,211 women and 465 men in the United States died from breast cancer.

Data source: U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2014 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta (GA): Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Cancer Institute; 2017. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/uscs.

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