The term, breast cancer, can strike fear into the hearts of many women. The discovery of a lump or an abnormal screening test, can make us fear the worst as it is the most common form of cancer in women. It is estimated that over 275,00 women in the US will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and another 45,000+ women will be diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer this year. While those are scary statistics, here is the good news: breast cancer rates are on the decline! This is thought to be due to a decline in prescriptive hormone replacement therapy after menopause, better screening, earlier detection, increased awareness, and ever- improving treatment options.
October is breast cancer awareness and if you are like me you have had someone close to you diagnosed with breast cancer. Some of our very own Garage Girls have fought and won against this disease!
What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
Symptoms vary from person to person, but early warning signs include:
Skin changes, such as swelling, redness, or other visible differences in one or both breasts
Lumps or nodes felt on or inside of the breast
An increase in size or change in shape of the breast(s)
Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples
Nipple discharge other than breast milk
General pain in/on any part of the breast
Symptoms more specific to invasive breast cancer are:
A breast lump or thickening
Irritated or itchy breasts
Changes in touch (may feel hard, tender or warm)
Change in breast color
Increase in breast size or shape (over a short period of time)
Peeling or flaking of the nipple skin
Redness or pitting of the breast skin (like the skin of an orange)
It is important to remember that these signs do not always mean you have breast cancer as they could also be signs of more benign issues but scheduling an appointment with your physician is important to determine if there is cause for concern.
What types of screening should I do?
Breast cancer screening is checking for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease. The United States Preventative Services Task Force recommends that women who are 50 -74 years of age and who are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every two years. Women who are 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor or other health care professional about when to start and how often to get a mammogram. Women should weigh the benefits and risks of screening tests when deciding whether to begin getting mammograms before age 50.
Other screening tools include a clinical breast exam which is done by a medical professional and breast self-awareness which means being familiar with how your breasts look and feel which can help you identify any symptoms that may be of concern.
What preventative measures can I take?
Researchers believe that developing breast cancer can be either environmental or genetic, or perhaps a combination of both. In addition, they also agree that there are some risk factors that cannot be changed, and preventing cancer entirely is not possible. But, there are things you can do to lower your risk of developing the disease.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle: A big factor in reducing the risk of breast factor is the ability to maintain a healthy weight. Having higher levels of fat tissue, especially around the waist, may increase your risk due to increased estrogen levels (fat tissue produces estrogen). In addition, women who are overweight tend to have higher levels of insulin which has been linked to breast cancer.
Participate in regular exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity is a wonderful way to help manage weight as well as providing the added benefits of improving our strength, balance, flexibility and cardiovascular and bone health! Try out a few of our exercise videos on the virtual class tab of this website!
Reduce environmental influences: Being aware of your exposure to the chemicals that we breathe in the air, the food and beverages we consume, and the chemicals that come in contact with our skin are important in our understanding the risk for the development of cancer. Cancer is caused by changes to certain genes that modify the way our cells function. Some of these changes occur naturally when DNA is replicated during the process of cell division, but others are the result of environmental exposures that damage our DNA. In September 2020, California signed into law AB 2762 which bans 24 toxic chemicals in cosmetics, which are linked to negative long-term health impacts especially for women and children and SB 312 requires companies selling beauty or personal care products to report the presence of hazardous ingredients. Nice job California!!
Limit alcohol consumption: No, you do not need to give up your glass of wine, but limiting your alcohol intake is a good idea. Women who had 2-3 alcoholic drinks per day had a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who abstained from alcohol.
Stop smoking: We all know the risk of smoking for our cardiovascular health but smoking also increases the risk of breast cancer. There are many smoking cessation programs available to help you kick the habit!
While October is a great month to increase awareness, remember that breast cancer can happen at any time of the year, so remember the symptoms, work to reduce your risk factors and keep up the screenings!