October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here are some facts and figures that may surprise you, courtesy of the Canadian Cancer Society (www.cancer.ca/en/ ). Thanks to advancements in diagnosis and treatment, 88% of women diagnosed with breast cancer in Canada now survive for at least 5 years after their diagnosis.
What are the risk factors?
Some significant risk factors include:
- Being female. About 99% of people who get breast cancer are female.
- Increasing age. Although people of all ages can get breast cancer, it is most common in women age 50-69.
- Family history or personal prior history of breast cancer
- BRCA gene mutations. Women with inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations have up to an 85% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.
- Drinking alcohol. Alcohol may increase estrogen in the body and may also lower levels of some essential nutrients that protect against cell damage, such as folate, vitamin A and vitamin C.
- Being obese and/or inactive
- Use of Hormone Replacement Therapy
What symptoms should I investigate with my doctor?
- A hard lump in the breast or around the nipple that often feels different than the rest of the tissue around it. It may feel like it is attached to the skin and won’t move freely.
- A lump in the arm pit or near the collarbone
- Changes in the shape or size of the breast
- Changes to the nipple (example: the nipple suddenly points inward instead of outward)
- Discharge from the breast, with or without blood
- Dimpled or pitted skin on the breast (resembling an orange peel)
- Itching or burning sensation in the breast, or feels unusually warm to the touch
- A rash or skin texture change on the nipple (crusting, flaking)
What can I do?
The best thing anyone can do, regardless of gender, is to be familiar with what their own breasts feel like. If something seems abnormal to you, contact your doctor for further medical advice.
The other thing you can do is encourage the people in your life, especially women, to do the same and get regular mammograms to identify any concerns as early as possible. It could save their life.