Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among women; 1 in 8 women in the US will develop this disease during the course of their lifetime. However, it’s not just women that get breast cancer; 1 in 1,000 men are also diagnosed with the disease every year.
The good news is that the number of people who develop breast cancer is declining, as is the proportion of breast cancer sufferers who die from the disease. Despite this, it is still important to be aware of the signs of breast cancer, as the earlier you catch it, the better your chance of survival.
To help raise awareness of breast cancer this month and beyond, here are some important things you should know about the disease:
What causes breast cancer?
Breast cancer is caused by cells’ excessive growth, which can occur in two different areas of the female breast. The first place is the lobules, which are tiny milk-producing glands used during breastfeeding. The second place is the ductal carcinoma, or milk duct – although fewer women are affected by breast cancer in this area.
How great is my risk of developing breast cancer?
The chances of developing breast cancer will vary from person to person; influences such as age, gender, diet and lifestyle can affect your risk of contracting the disease.
However, there are certain genetic predispositions that make you more susceptible to breast cancer. For example, some women naturally carry the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, which help to repair or destroy damaged DNA in the body.
While these genes can improve your health if they are working to full capacity, they can also mutate and become damaged, leading you to develop cancerous cells. Therefore, women carrying the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are more likely to get breast cancer than those who do not carry them.
To mark the awareness month, the National Breast Cancer Foundation has written a 'Know The Symptoms Guide', which is free to download.
Early symptoms to watch out for include:
- Armpit or breast pain that is not related to your menstrual cycle
- Redness of the breast
- Changes to the nipple such as discharge, rashes, inversion and flaky skin
- Puckering of the skin on the breast, like the peel of an orange
- Lumps on the breast, or changes in the breast’s size or shape
If you notice any of these symptoms, consult your doctor immediately – they will arrange for further tests to find out what’s going on.
What are my chances of surviving breast cancer?
If you test positive for breast cancer, there are a number of treatments available, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which offer good success rates. Currently, 83% of breast cancer patients live for 10 years or more following treatment.
Early diagnosis and treatment is key to survival, so it is important to pay attention to the health of your breasts by carrying out regular self-examinations.
Regular examination of your breasts only takes a few minutes and could save your life. Take a look at this breast self-examination video for details of the routine you should follow.
The best time to check your breasts is when you’ve just got out of the shower; make sure you are either lying down or standing in front of the mirror to carry out a thorough self-examination.
Alternatively, if you are aged over 50 years, you may be eligible to receive a mammogram – an X-ray of your breasts – to check for cancer. Women in this age bracket are advised to have a mammogram every three years.
Understanding the causes of breast cancer, and taking time to regularly check your breasts, could make a life changing difference. If you’re worried about your chances of contracting breast cancer, or want a professional breast examination, make sure you speak to your doctor or other healthcare professional.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, or any other type of cancer, join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group where you'll find thousands of other people on the same journey as you - all ready to offer advice and support.