October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is the most common cancer among American women. Each year in the U.S., more than 250,000 women get breast cancer, and 42,000 women die from this disease.1 Mammograms help find breast cancer early, making it easier to treat before it is big enough to feel or cause any symptoms. Ask your doctor when you should get a mammogram.
Breast cancer has different symptoms, however, not everyone shows symptoms. These can include:
Change in the size or shape of your breast
Pain in any area of your breast
Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
A new lump in your breast or underarm
Women are encouraged to perform a self-exam at least once a month for early detection of breast cancer. This will help you become familiar with your breasts – how they look and feel – so you are able to detect any possible concerning changes.
How should you perform a self-exam?
In the Shower – Check both breasts each month, feeling for any lumps, thickening, hardened knots, or other changes.
In Front of the Mirror – Visually examine your breasts with your arms at your side, then raise your arms above your head. Look for changes in contour, swelling, dimpling, or changes in the nipples.
Lying Down – Put a pillow under your right shoulder and place your right arm behind your head. With your left hand, cover the entire breast area and armpit using light, medium, and firm pressure. Also check for discharge or lumps by squeezing the nipple. Repeat for the other side.
If you find a lump during your self-exam, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider.
What are the risk factors for breast cancer?
There are several studies that show that someone’s risk for breast cancer is affected by a combination of different factors. The two main factors that increase risk are being a woman and getting older, as most breast cancers are found in women 50 years of age and older. (2) To be clear, having risk factors does not mean that you will get breast cancer.
Here are five common risk factors for breast cancer you cannot control, provided by the CDC:
Getting Older – As mentioned previously, your risk for getting breast cancer increases as you get older. Most breast cancers are diagnosed after a woman is 50 years of age.
Genetic Mutations – These are inherited changes to certain genes (like BRCA1 or BRCA2) and women who have these genes are at a higher risk for breast and ovarian cancer.
Reproductive History – Women who have menstrual cycles before the age of 12 and start menopause after 55 have longer exposure to hormones, which increases the risk for breast cancer.
Dense Breasts – Someone with dense breasts means they have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, making it harder for mammograms to detect tumors.
Personal History of Breast Cancer or Certain Non-Cancerous Breast Diseases – Women who have had breast cancer are at a higher risk of getting it a second time. Also, some non-cancerous breast diseases may be associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
For more information on other factors that increase the risk of breast cancer, please visit www.cdc.org.
There are ways to help lower your risk of getting breast cancer including:
Maintaining a healthy weight
Limiting or eliminating alcohol consumption
Taking HRT or birth control pills (Talk to your doctor before starting new medications.)
Breast feeding your children, if possible
Breast cancer does not just affect women or specifically older women. Most breast cancer is found in women who are 50 years or older, however, younger women can also get this disease. This is why it’s important to be proactive about your breast health and perform monthly self-exams.
Can men get breast cancer?
Men can also get breast cancer, but it is not as common. About 1 out of every 100 breast cancer diagnoses in the U.S. is found in a man.2 The most common types of breast cancer in men are the same kinds that are found in women, which include:
Invasive ductal carcinoma. The cancer cells grow outside the ducts into other parts of the breast tissue. Invasive cancer cells can also spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.2
Invasive lobular carcinoma. Cancer cells spread from the lobules to the breast tissues that are close by. These invasive cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body. 2
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). DCIS is a breast disease that may lead to breast cancer. The cancer cells are only in the lining of the ducts and have not spread to other tissues in the breast. 2
What are the symptoms of breast cancer for men?
The symptoms of breast cancer in men include:
A lump or swelling in the breast
Redness or flaky skin in the breast
Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
What are the risk factors for men?
There are many factors that can increase a man’s chance of getting breast cancer, however, just because you may have some risk factors does not mean you will get breast cancer. Here are some common risk factors according to the CDC:
Getting older - Like women, the risk for breast cancer increases with age and most breast cancers are found in those who are 50 and older.
Genetic mutations – Like women, genetic (mutations) in certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, increase breast cancer risk.
Family history of breast cancer – A man’s risk for breast cancer increases if a close family member has had breast cancer.
Conditions that affect the testicles – Injury, swelling, or surgery to remove the testicles can increase breast cancer risk.
Weight and obesity - Older men who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than men at a normal weight.
For more information on other risk factors for breast cancer in men, please visit www.cdc.org.
Whether you are a man or a woman, treatment for breast cancer is the same. Treatment does depend on how big the tumor is and how far it has spread. Treatments can include:
Fortunately, breast cancer is treatable if detected early. You can spot early warning signs by being aware of your risk for breast cancer, performing a monthly self-exam, and beginning annual breast cancer screenings when it is recommended by your health care provider. If you have any symptoms or signs that worry you, it’s best to contact your doctor right away.