October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is a group of diseases in which cells in breast tissue change and divide uncontrolled, typically resulting in a lump or mass. Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women.
Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 and older, but breast cancer also affects younger women. Approximately 1 in 8 women (13%) will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetime and 1 in 39 women (3%) will die from breast cancer.
Many factors can influence your breast cancer risk, and most women who develop breast cancer do not have any known risk factors or a history of the disease in their families. However, you can help lower your risk of breast cancer in the following ways:
• Keep a healthy weight.
• Exercise regularly.
• Don’t drink alcohol, or limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one per day.
• Avoid exposure to chemicals that can cause cancer.
• If you are taking, or have been told to take hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives (birth control pills), ask your doctor about the risks and find out if it is right for you.
• Breastfeed your babies, if possible.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer:
Breast cancer typically has no symptoms when the tumor is small and most easily treated, which is why screening is important for early detection. The most common physical sign is a painless lump. Sometimes breast cancer spreads to underarm lymph nodes and causes a lump or swelling, even before the original breast tumor is large enough to be felt. Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:
• Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)
• Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
• Breast or nipple pain
• Nipple discharge
• Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking or thickened
You can have screening tests that may find breast cancer early:
• Mammogram: Mammography is the best test we have today to find breast cancer early. It can find breast cancer when it is very small and chances for survival are highest. Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk.
• Clinical Breast Exam: A clinical breast exam is done by a doctor or nurse in an office or clinic. They will look at and feel your breasts and under your arms to look for changes or signs of breast cancer. Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at age 20, and every year starting at age 40.
Getting screened could save your life. The Care for Yourself program provides free or low-cost breast and cervical cancer screenings to qualified women. If you’re a woman aged 40-64 years with a household income up to 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, you may qualify for free mammograms and pap tests. Regular screening is the best way to prevent and detect cancer it its earliest stages. Please contact Appanoose County Public Health at 641-437-4332 for more information.