Breast cancer is a group of diseases that affects breast tissue. Both women and men can get breast cancer, though it is much more common in women.
Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. Some women are at higher risk for breast cancer than others because of their personal or family medical history or because of certain changes in their genes.
Studies have shown that your risk for breast cancer is because of a combination of factors. The main factors that influence your risk include being a woman and getting older. Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older.
Some women will get breast cancer even without any other risk factors that they know of. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease, and not all risk factors have the same effect. Most women have some risk factors, but most women do not get breast cancer. If you have breast cancer risk factors, talk with your doctor about ways you can lower your risk and about screening for breast cancer.
Some things may increase your risk include:
■ Changes in breast cancer-related genes (BRCA1 or BRCA2).
■ Having your first menstrual period before age 12.
■ Never giving birth, or being older when your first child is born.
■ Starting menopause after age 55.
■ Taking hormones to replace missing estrogen and progesterone in menopause for more than five years.
■ Taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills).
■ A personal history of breast cancer, dense breasts, or some other breast problems.
■ A family history of breast cancer (parent, sibling or child).
■ Getting radiation therapy to the breast or chest.
■ Being overweight, especially after menopause.
You can’t change some factors, such as getting older or your family history, but you can help lower your risk of breast cancer by taking care of your health in the following ways;
■ Keep a healthy weight.
■ Exercise regularly (at least four hours a week).
■ Research shows that lack of nighttime sleep can be a risk factor.
■ Don’t drink alcohol, or limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one per day.
■ Avoid exposure to chemicals that can cause cancer (carcinogens) and chemicals that interfere with the normal function of the body.
■ Limit exposure to radiation from medical imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, and PET scans if not medically necessary.
■ 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.
■ Breast-feed any children you may have, if possible.
Breast cancer screening means checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before she has any symptoms. A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast. Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms.
Most women who are 50 to 74 years old should have a screening mammogram every two years. If you are 40 to 49 years old, or think you may have a higher risk of breast cancer, ask your doctor when to have a screening mammogram.
Different people have different symptoms of breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all. A person may find out they have breast cancer after a routine mammogram.
Some warning signs of breast cancer are:
■ New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
■ Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
■ Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
■ Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
■ Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
■ Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
■ Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
■ Pain in the breast.
Other conditions can cause these symptoms. If you have any signs that worry you, call your doctor right away.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/.
To Your Health is written by the staff of Boulder City Hospital. For more information, call 702-293-4111, ext. 576, or visit bouldercityhospital.org.