3 Things Everyone Should Know About Breast Cancer

3 Things Everyone Should Know About Breast Cancer

October 05, 2018

Breast cancer isn’t just a grandma’s disease, and you need to know about it. Women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s can, and do, get breast cancer. Awareness and education are key to the prevention, identification, and treatment of breast cancer. Even though early detection is not a cure, it does lead to a better prognosis. No one is too young to be breast-aware. If you suspect anything might be amiss, don't hesitate to talk to your doctor. If they say you are too young or say you are not at risk, get a second opinion.

Everyone needs to know about breast cancer. Even if it might not affect you, it might affect someone you know.

Prevalence and risk factors

Facts: for 2018, the American Cancer Society estimates that:

  • About 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed.
  • About 63,960 new cases of the non-invasive, earliest form of breast cancer (carcinoma in situ, CIS), will be diagnosed.
  • About 40,920 women will die from breast cancer.
  • Black and white women have similar rates of developing breast cancer; however, mortality is 42% higher among black women.
  • Breast cancer and lung cancer are the most prevalent types of cancer, each accounting for about 12.3% of cancers.

Risk Factors:

Gender: The main risk factor for breast cancer is being a woman. There are about 266,120 new cases of breast cancer for females every year, compared to 2,550 for men.

Age: The older you get, the higher the incidence of breast cancer. Most breast cancers are diagnosed in women older than 50.

Family History: Having a first-degree relative (sister, mother, daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer doubles your risk; having two first-degree relatives with breast cancer increases your risk by 5 times.

Genetics: Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are linked to breast cancer. These genes are responsible for repairing damage to breast, ovarian, and other cells during growth. These mutations account for about 10% of all breast cancers.

Being Overweight: Having a BMI over 25 puts you in at a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. The higher risk is associated with an increase in fat cells, which store extra estrogen. Extra estrogen can aid cancer growth.

Alcohol and Smoking: Compared to women who don’t drink at all, women who have 3+ drinks consistently per week have a 15% higher risk of contracting breast cancer. First- and second-hand smoke has been linked to many inflammatory and reproductive diseases.

Using Hormone Replacement Therapy: Using combination HRT increases the risk of breast cancer by 75%, even when it is used for a short time. When using estrogen only, HRT increases breast cancer risk, but only if it is used for more than 10 years.

Dietary Deficiencies: Studies show that breast cancer is less common in people who consume a plant-based diet that is low in polyunsaturated and saturated fats. Even though more research has to be done on diet and breast cancer, diet is thought to be responsible for 30-40% of all cancers. Low levels of vitamin D are also being associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. Vitamin D may play a role in controlling normal breast cell growth, and even aid in breast cancer prevention.

A complete list of breast cancer risk factors can be found here.

The Exam

1) In the Shower

Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month, feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get any lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.

2) In Front of a Mirror

Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.

Look for any changes in the contours, swelling, dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press in firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women's breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.

3) Lying Down

When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast, moving gently in small circular motions. Cover the entire breast area and armpit.

Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.

Some 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women doing a self-exam. Mammograms can help detect cancer before you can feel anything. Breast self-exams help familiarize you with how your breasts normally look and feel.

Some 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women doing a self-exam. Mammograms can help detect cancer before you can feel anything. Breast self-exams help familiarize you with how your breasts normally look and feel.

Myths to avoid

Drinking milk causes breast cancer

Milk and dairy don’t directly cause breast cancer. Many research studies show no increase in breast cancer risk. Diets high in unhealthy fats do increase the risk of breast cancer.

  1. American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/how-your-diet-may-affect-your-risk-of-breast-cancer.html.
  2. International Journal of Epidemiology:  https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/31/1/78/655928/Meat-and-dairy-food-consumption-and-breast-cancer.
  3. Journal of the American College of Nutrition: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2005.10719504

Finding a lump means you have breast cancer

Not all lumps are associated to breast cancer. Some are benign lumps, and some appear and disappear due to hormonal changes. If you do discover a persistent lump or notice any change in the breast tissue, it’s very important to be examined by a physician.

Men cannot get breast cancer

Although breast cancer is not as prevalent in men, it is still possible. About 2,500 men will get diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Men do have a higher mortality, because awareness is much lower.

If you have a relative with breast cancer you will get breast cancer

Most women who develop breast cancer have no familial history. Statistically, only 10% of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of it.

Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute have not found any conclusive evidence linking the use of underarm deodorants and antiperspirants to the development of breast cancer.

Despite all the progress we have made, there is still much to be done. Breast cancer is still the second leading cause of cancer death in women. There is still an unfortunately large racial gap in that African-American women have a significantly higher breast cancer death rate compared to white women.


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