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Everything you need to know about Breast Cancer in four easy answers

March 9, 2010

The average woman at Calvary is 45 years old- an age when it is recommended that a woman should receive a mammogram yearly. However, many, coming off the streets or from other emergency shelters, have not had a mammogram or a breast exam in years. Thus, breast health is one of the focal points of our life skill program.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts from cells of the breast. A malignant tumor is a group of cancer cells that may grow into surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. It is found mostly in women; however, men can also get it as well. There are many different types of breast cancer, with different stages (spread), aggressiveness, and genetic makeup and survival varies greatly depending on those factors.  Usually breast cancer either begins in the cells of the lobules, which are the milk-producing glands, or the ducts, the passages that drain milk from the lobules to the nipple.

Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States- about 40,500 women will die from the disease this year. In fact, one in every eight women in the United States develops breast cancer.

What are the risk factors for breast cancer?

There are both uncontrollable and controllable risk factors associated with breast cancer. However, having risk factors does not mean that you will get the disease, just as having zero risk factors does not mean you are in the clear. In fact, the majority of cancers occur in women with no risk factors; it is hard to know just how much risk factors may have contributed to the cancer.

Some uncontrolled risk factors include, a person’s age (chance of getting breast cancer goes up as a woman gets older), race (White women are more likely), dense breast tissue, family history, and various genetic risk factors.

Still other risk factors are related personal behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and weight (all increase your risk of getting the disease). If you limit alcohol intake, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy body weight, you are decreasing your risk of getting breast cancer. Also, women who choose to breast-feed for at least several months may also get an added benefit of reducing their breast cancer risk.

There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, and your risk for breast cancer can change over time. But you can try to reduce your risk, and make sure you are aware of the symptoms in an attempt to find the cancer at an early stage.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

The first noticeable symptom of breast cancer is typically a lump that feels different from the rest of the breast tissue, and more than 80% of breast cancer cases are discovered this way. Lumps found in lymph nodes located in the armpits can also indicate breast cancer. A lump that is painless, hard, and has uneven edges is more likely to be cancer. But some cancers are tender, soft, and rounded. Indications of breast cancer other than a lump may include changes in breast size or shape, skin dimpling, nipple inversion, nipple discharge other than breast milk, and pain. Anything unusual should be checked by a doctor.

However, the earliest breast cancers are detected by a mammogram, which can find cancers before they start to cause symptoms.  It is recommended that women 40 and over should have a screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health.

What are the methods of treatment?

Women with breast cancer have many treatment options. These include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy and biological therapy. And many women receive more than one type of treatment. The choice of treatment depends mainly on the stage of the disease. Although, most women with breast cancer have some type of surgery, as it is often needed to remove a breast tumor. Options for this include breast-conserving surgery and mastectomy.

It is best to work with your doctor, and perhaps even consult a second opinion, when deciding what treatment option is best for you. Together, you will be able to develop a treatment plan and a course of action that will suit you best.

These websites are all very comprehensive sources for more information on breast cancer symptoms, states, treatments, etc.

**Also, check back next week! Later this week our friends at the Capital Breast Care Center will be hosting a life skills class for the women at Calvary, and I will reporting back in next Tuesday’s blog.

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