Category: Women's Health
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Health Risk: Breast Cancer
July 07, 2009
Find out the facts behind – and ways to reduce the risk of – breast cancer.
For years, the incidence of breast cancer among women has steadily increased. So what can you do?
Understanding breast cancer and early detection can help you compete against and defeat this formidable opponent.
How do you get it?
Breast cancer results from the abnormal growth of cells in breast tissue. The exact cause of breast cancer is unknown. The following factors may increase your risk of developing breast cancer:
- Age – Your risk of breast cancer increases with age
- Gender – Most breast cancer occurs in women, but according to the CDC, about 1% of breast cancer occurs in men
- Family history – You're more likely to get breast cancer if your mother or sister has had it
- Hormones – Particularly after menopause, when using hormone replacement therapy, altering your estrogen-progestin and estrogen-testosterone levels
- Menstruation – Early start of menstruation (around age 12) and late menopause (around age 55) can be factors
- When you have children – Having children late or not having children at all can increase your risk
- Not breastfeeding – Studies show women who don't breastfeed have a higher incidence of developing breast cancer
- Lifestyle and behavior choices – Obesity, inactivity, and excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to a higher risk
How can you reduce your risk?
The good news is that you can reduce some risk factors by taking the following precautions:
- Avoid long-term hormone replacement therapy
- Have children before age 30 and breastfeed them
- Exercise and eat properly to avoid weight gain
- Limit alcohol consumption to a drink a day or less
Early detection is one of your best defenses. Annual screenings, self-checks and knowing some of the symptoms can help you stay ahead of breast cancer or catch it early.
While the incidence of breast cancer is very low for women in their 20s, you should begin to do periodic self-exams. You'll become familiar with how your breasts look and feel and will be able to report a change to your doctor early. These exams should be done about a week after your period.
Clinical breast exams
For women in their 20s and 30s, these should be done by their healthcare professional at least every three years, and annually if 40 or older. This is also a good time to review your self-exam technique with your doctor.
Women 40 and older should have a mammogram every year. Mammograms are simple X-rays of the breast that reveal any abnormalities. It's estimated that regular mammograms can reduce breast cancer deaths by 30%. Find out more about screening and diagnostic tests for breast cancer.
Symptoms you should check for during screenings
Early detection improves your chances of successful treatment. Here are a few breast cancer warning signs:
- Your breast feels different – Most women describe a painless lump or thickening in the breast or underarm
- Your breast looks different – The breast may dimple or look like an orange peel
- You notice a change in the nipple – Changes, including fluid from the nipple, which may be clear or bloody
- Redness or scaling – If there's redness or scaling of the skin or nipple
If you think you have any of these symptoms, your doctor should evaluate you as soon as possible. Make sure to check regularly for any changes and take the time to arrange for the breast cancer screenings you need. It's worth the time to put yourself - and your health - first.