Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Signs, Symptoms and Risk Factors

Knowing the risk factors for breast cancer may help you take preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of developing the disease. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer.  Not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Honest and ongoing dialog with your physician along with self-exams will promote good health.
Breast Cancer Risk factors include:
Aging – On the average women over 60 are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Only about 10-15 percent of breast cancers occur in women younger than 45, but this does vary by ethnicities.
Gender – Women develop 100 times more breast cancer than men. The National Cancer Institute estimates that over 2,000 men and 190,000 will develop breast cancer annually.
Family History – Having a family history of breast cancer, particularly women with a mother, sister or daughter who has or had breast cancer, may double the risk.
Inherited Factors – Gene testing reveals the presence of potential genetic problems, particularly in families that have a history of breast cancer. Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRAC2 genes are the most common inherited causes.
Obesity – After menopause fat tissue may contribute to increases in estrogen levels, and high levels of estrogen may increase the risk of breast cancer. Weight gain during adulthood and excess body fat around the waist may also play a part.
Children – Women who have never had children, or who have children after the age of 35 may have a greater chance of developing breast cancer. Breast feeding may help to lower breast cancer risks.
Menstruation – Starting monthly periods before the age of 12 and or menopause at an older age such as after 55.
Lifestyles – Maintaining a sedentary lifestyle or heavy alcohol usage increases the risk factors.
Other Factors – The use of oral contraceptives within the past 10 years., Combined post-menopausal hormone therapy (PHT)., Previous use of DES (a drug commonly given to pregnant women from 1940-1971), Radiation exposure.
The most recognized symptom of breast cancer is a lump or mass in the breast tissue. While many women go to their doctor after finding a lump they should also be doing their own monthly self-exams.  Equally important is to be aware of any other changes to the breast or the nipple itself. Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) which forms in the milk ducts may cause a distinct breast lump that can be felt. Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) which forms in the milk producing glands may cause a thickening in the breast. Although symptoms of breast cancer vary from person to person, some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Skin changes, such as swelling, redness or other visible differences in one or both breast
  • An increase in size or change in shape of the breast
  • Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk
  • General pain in or on any part of the breast
  • Lumps or nodes felt on or inside of the breast

Maintaining good breast health requires proactive measures. Self-awareness, self-breast exams, and yearly physicals with a physician are essential.  Any actual or perceived change in the breast needs to be evaluated immediately.