This post was written in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Disclaimer: the information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not designed to replace individualized recommendations from a practitioner. Always check with your doctor before adding supplements or making changes to your treatment plan.
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we thought it was important to take a moment to educate you all about the signs and symptoms of this disease, which, besides skin cancer, is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in America.
"The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new mass or lump".
What are the Symptoms?
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new mass or lump. Because of this, it is extremely important to become familiar with the way that your breasts typically feel and look so that you can recognize any changes. A cancerous lump is more likely to be a hard, painless mass with irregular edges; however cancerous lumps can also be painful, soft, or even round.
- Skin Dimpling (sometimes described as looking like the peel of an orange)
- Nipple or Breast Pain
- Nipple Discharge
- Swollen Lymph Nodes (around arm or neck)
- Breast Swelling (even without a lump present)
- Dry, Red, or Flaking Nipple Skin
- Nipple Retraction (a nipple that is turned inwards)
Types of Breast Cancer
There are a number of different types of breast cancer and their classification is based on which cells the cancer originates from, as well as whether or not it has spread to other parts of the body. The following is by no means a complete list of all breast cancer types, but it is a good place to start.
Nearly 1-in-5 new breast cancer cases will end up being DCIS and, if caught early enough, nearly all women with DCIS can be cured.
DCIS is a breast cancer that originates within a milk duct and it is classified as 'in situ' because it has not yet spread to surrounding breast tissue; meaning that it is also a non-invasive form of breast cancer.
IDC is the most common form of breast cancer and it accounts for approximately 8-in-10 invasive breast cancer diagnoses.
Like DCIS, IDC originates within the milk ducts. Unlike DCIS, however, IDC eventually grows through the wall of the milk duct and into surrounding breast tissue. Because of this, IDC has the potential to spread (or metastasize) to other parts of the body.
Approximately 1-in-10 invasive breast cancers is an ILC. These tumors begin in the milk producing glands, also known as lobules, and they have a tendency to metastasize.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)
IBC is quite rare, only accounting for approximately 1-5% of all breast cancers. Despite the fact that IBC is typically a type of invasive ductal carcinoma, IBC has a different outlook, symptom set, and treatment plan.
The following are some of the ways in which IBC is different from other breast cancer types:
- Typically occurs in women under 40
- Tends to be more aggressive and grows more quickly
- Usually has a less favorable prognosis
- More common in women who are overweight or obese
- Has a different set of symptoms (see below)
- Redness on an area greater than one third of the breast
- Swelling of the skin of the breast
- Pitting/thickening of the skin (orange peel)
- Warmth of the breast
- Breast itching, pain, or tenderness
- One breast that is larger than the other
- An inverted or retracted nipple
Although the symptoms outlined above can also describe a number of other conditions, including mastitis (if pregnant or breast feeding), it is recommended that you see a doctor right away if experiencing these symptoms. Most likely, your doctor will first prescribe antibiotics to attempt to treat a suspected infection, but if the symptoms do not resolve in 7-10 days, more tests should be ordered.
What are the Risk Factors?
Many risk factors for breast cancer are things that we cannot control, including:
- A Family History of Breast Cancer: Having a first degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) with breast cancer nearly doubles a woman's risk of developing the disease.
- Aging: Risk for breast cancer increases with age.
- Being Female: Although men can also develop breast cancer, this disease is far more prevalent in women.
- Dense Breast Tissue: Women with dense breast tissue have a risk of developing breast cancer that is 1.5-2x higher than women without dense breast tissue.
Possessing a Genetic Mutation: Approximately 5-10% of breast cancers are thought to be caused by hereditary gene mutations. Such mutations include:
- A BRCA1 or BRCA2 Gene Mutation: Women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation have a 70% risk of developing breast cancer by age 80. Possessing a BRCA mutation also increases the likelihood of developing breast cancer at a younger age. These mutations are typically more common in women of Eastern European Jewish (Ashkenazi) heritage.
- Other Gene Mutations Include: ATM, CDH1, CHEK2, PALB2, PTEN, STK11, and TP53.
Unlike the factors above, the following factors involve personal behavioral and lifestyle choices:
- Alcohol Consumption: Woman who drink two to three drinks a day have approximately a 20% higher risk of developing breast cancer than non-drinkers do.
- Hormonal Birth Control: Some methods of hormonal birth control, including oral contraceptives, shots, and IUD's have been shown to slightly increase one's risk of developing breast cancer.
MAMOGRAPHY SCREENING GUIDELINES
|AVERAGE RISK||HIGH RISK|
No personal history of breast cancer, no breast cancer associated genetic mutation, and no family history of breast cancer.
Have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, have a
first degree relative with a BRCA mutation, have a personal history of breast cancer, have extremely dense breast tissue.
Found a Lump or Experiencing Symptoms?
Yearly mammography screenings (if eligible) isn't the only way to save lives and detect breast cancer early! Be sure to pay attention to the typical appearance and feel of your breasts. If you notice an area or symptom of concern (as outlined above), seek help from your physician!
Your physician will likely:
- Perform a Physical Examination
- Listen to Your Symptoms and Evaluate Your Family History
- If An Area of Concern is Located, They May Choose to Biopsy For More Information.
- American Cancer Society's Breast Cancer Risk and Prevention Guide: An in-depth look at the various risk factors that contribute to the development of breast cancer, as well as guidelines on possible risk-lowering behaviors.
- American Cancer Society's Breast Cancer Early Detection and Diagnosis Guide: A free guide which discusses screening methods and recommendations for early detection of breast cancer.
- American Cancer Society's Understanding a Breast Cancer Diagnosis Guide: A free guide which discusses the various types of breast cancers in detail.
- Color Genomics: We recommend consulting with a physician regarding any family history of cancer that may lead you to suspect some sort of genetic component. However, in the event that you want to seek genetic testing on your own, Color Genomics has an at-home test that analyzes thirty genes associated with various cancers.
Remember, knowing the "normal state" of your breasts is an important step in the early detection of breast cancer. Just like they say on the Subway in New York City, "if you see something, say something"— it may just save your life!
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