Educating Can Be Key to Preventing and Diagnosing Breast Cancer
Each year, nearly 200,000 women and 2,000 men in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer, making it one of the most common types of cancer among women in our country.
“While there is no way of guaranteeing that a person won’t develop breast cancer, there are certainly steps that can be taken to reduce risk,” says Dr. Timothy Brotherton, at Danville Hematology and Oncology. “Learning to recognize the symptoms of breast cancer, understanding what puts a person at a high risk of developing the disease, and actively monitoring breast health can be key.”
What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
In its early stages, breast cancer often has no symptoms. However, the following symptoms may be present as a tumor develops:
• A lump in the breast or underarm that persists after your menstrual cycle
• A marble-like area under the skin
• Swelling in the armpit
• Persistent breast pain or tenderness
• Any change in the size, contour, texture or temperature of the breast
• A noticeable flattening or indentation on the breast
• A change in the nipple, such as an indrawn or dimpled look, itching or burning sensation, or ulceration
• Unusual discharge from the nipple
Who Is at Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?
• Women with a history of breast cancer have a 3- to 4-times increased risk of developing a new breast cancer, unrelated to the first one, in the other breast or in another part of the same breast.
• Women with a family history of breast cancer. Having a mother, sister, or daughter who has (or has had) breast cancer increases your risk for developing the disease. The risk is even greater if your relative had cancer in both breasts or developed the breast cancer before menopause.
• Women over age 50. About 77 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are over age 50, and almost half are age 65 and older.
• Women with a previous breast biopsy result of atypical hyperplasia, or those with a previous abnormal breast biopsy indicating fibroadenomas with complex features, hyperplasia without atypia, sclerosing adenosis and solitary papilloma.
• Carriers of alterations in either of two familial breast cancer genes called BRCA1 or BRCA2.
• Caucasian women are at a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than are African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American women.
• Women who have their first child after age 35 or never have children.
• Women who started menstruating before age 12.
• Women who begin menopause after age 55.
• Overweight women, with excess caloric and fat intake (especially post-menopause).
• Women who have 2 to 5 alcoholic beverages a day are 1.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who drink no alcohol.
• Those exposed to excessive amounts of radiation, especially before age 30.
• Women who use Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for an extended period of time. (Risk seems to return to that of the general population after discontinuing use for five years or more.)
• Those with a history of cancer in the family. A family history of cancer of the ovaries, cervix, uterus, or colon increases your risk of developing breast cancer.
What Steps Can Be Taken to Prevent Breast Cancer?
“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can prove powerful in preventing breast cancer. It’s important to eat right, stay active, and maintain a healthy weight,” says Dr. Brotherton. “Women should also perform self-breast exams at home every month and make scheduling annual exams with their gynecologists a priority. Most importantly, if you notice a change in your breast, talk to your doctor immediately. Like most forms of cancer, early diagnosis and treatment can be critical.”
What About High Risk Patients?
Danville Diagnostic Imaging Center has the area’s only accredited MRI mammography. According to the Mayo Clinic, Breast MRI is a relatively new, highly specialized test in which a powerful magnet is used to obtain hundreds of images of the breasts. The advantage of breast MRI is that it is extremely sensitive, which means that it can detect both cancerous and non-cancerous lesions. When used prudently and appropriately in high-risk patients with dense breasts, breast MRI can be advantageous.
How to Perform a Breast Exam at Home
Lie down on your back and place your right arm behind your head. The exam is done while lying down because, when lying down, the breast tissue spreads evenly over the chest wall, making it much easier to feel all the breast tissue.
Use the finger pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right breast. Use overlapping dime-sized circular motions of the finger pads to feel the breast tissue.
Use three different levels of pressure to feel all the breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue closest to the skin; medium pressure to feel a little deeper; and firm pressure to feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs. It is normal to feel a firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast, but, you should tell your doctor if you feel anything else out of the ordinary. Use each pressure level to feel the breast tissue before moving on to the next spot
Repeat the exam on your left breast, putting your left arm behind your head and using the finger pads of your right hand to do the exam.
While standing in front of a mirror with your hands pressing firmly down on your hips, look at your breasts for any changes of size, shape, contour or dimpling, or redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin.
Examine each underarm while sitting up or standing and with your arm only slightly raised so you can easily feel in this area.
– Courtesy: American Cancer Society