National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) is every October, but just because it’s already over, doesn’t mean we should put breast cancer in the back of our minds.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, breast cancer refers to the formation of malignant (cancerous) cells in the breast. Although men and women of any age, race, or ethnicity can develop breast cancer, breast cancer is the second most common cancer in United States women. Approximately 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and over 40,000 will die of the disease each year.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer are usually expressed through changes in how the breast or nipples feel. Changes include increased tenderness in the breast or nipples, thickening or lumps, or changes in breast skin color or texture. Nipple discharge may also occur.
Although family and medical history can increase the risk of breast cancer, everyone can make lifestyle choices that may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Eating a healthy, low-fat diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly reduce the risk of breast cancer. Avoiding alcohol and smoking may also reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
In addition to having mammograms and annual breast exams at the appropriate ages, all women have the power to detect breast cancer early by performing monthly breast self-exams. There are three parts to the self-exam:
- In the shower: move flat fingers over every part of the breast, observing any lumps, hard knots, or thickening. Use the right fingers to examine the left breast and vice versa.
- In front of a mirror: raise straight arms over your head, looking for any swelling or dimpling in the breasts or changes in the nipples. Bring your arms down, rest your hands on your hips, and flex your chest muscles, again looking for any changes. It’s normal for the breasts not to look exactly alike.
- Lying down: prop a pillow under your right shoulder and place your right arm straight behind your head. With flat fingers, use your left hand to examine the right breast, similarly to the way you examined them in the shower, but use a variety of different pressures. Repeat on the other side.
If you find a lump, contact your doctor, but don’t be too alarmed. Approximately 80% of all breast lumps are not cancerous.