Every October the pink ribbons come out and the talk turns to Breast Cancer Awareness. The pink ribbon reminds us to do our monthly self-exams and get screening mammograms. Currently, breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women.

For 2019, The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer, about 62,930 new cases of carcinoma in situ (this is a non-invasive and earliest form of breast cancer), and approximately 42,260 deaths from breast cancer. This year, new diagnosis of breast cancer in men is estimated to be 2,670 cases and about 500 men will die from breast cancer.

The average risk for a woman to develop breast cancer at some time in her life is 12%. That translates to a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer.

I know that those numbers sound high, but on the flip side there is a seven out of eight chance that you won’t get it. Because breast cancer is so much more treatable in the early stages, earlier detection is crucial.

Before we dive into prevention and testing, let’s dig deeper into the different names you may here when discussing types of breast cancer. Very early breast cancer is ductal carcinoma in situ. In this cancer, the cells are only found inside the ducts that carry milk to the nipple. Lobular carcinoma in situ starts in the glands that make milk, but does not go through the walls of the glands. It is not actually cancer, but women with this are at higher risk of getting breast cancer.

Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer. It starts in the milk duct and grows through the wall into the nearby breast tissue. It can spread to other parts of your body too. Invasive lobular carcinoma is a breast cancer that starts in your milk glands and can spread to other parts of the body. Inflammatory breast cancer is rarer. Usually there is no lump or tumor, but the breast may look red or feel warm and the skin can take on an orange peel like appearance.

While we don’t know exactly what causes breast cancer, we do know that there are some things that make us more predisposed to developing this particular type. Just like with heart disease, there are things we can change and things we can’t.

We cannot change our gender, age, family history, personal history, genetic risk factors, race, onset of menstrual cycle (before age 12) or menopause (after age 55), and dense breast tissue.

The “we can change” side of this relates to lifestyle and personal choices. In this category we would consider things such as not having children or not having your first until after the age of 30, the use of certain types of birth control, hormone therapy after menopause, not breastfeeding, use of alcohol, and being overweight or obese.

Along with these there are factors that are either less clear or have been disproven. Search the internet and you will see anything from warnings on deodorant causing breast cancer or certain foods that will cause or cure it.

There is no magic trick potion that will prevent you from developing breast cancer, but making changes in our eating and lifestyle habits can improve the odds. We know that being overweight or obese is a risk factor so working on both eating and exercise habits can help put you on the road to reducing that risk.

We recommend that you consume a more plant-based diet, focusing on increased fruits, vegetables and whole grains, along with low-fat dairy products and lean meats. For exercise, 150 minutes per week is suggested. This equates to 30 minutes, five days a week. Not smoking and getting adequate rest are also recommended for improving your overall health.

Being on the lookout for signs and symptoms will also help with early detection. While the mammogram is the test used for screening, doing your own self-examinations on a monthly basis can help spot a new lump or mass that has formed. Men, self-examinations are for you too!

Other symptoms may include swelling of all or part of the breast, breast pain, nipple pain or nipple turning inward, redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin or nipple discharge other than breast milk. If you have any of these symptoms you should seek medical advice.

The field of cancer research is so broad and there are so many avenues we could explore. The therapies available, genetic testing and counseling are hot topics. There is an ever-evolving door of information that we could flood this page with, but the most important message for this month is to make sure you are performing self-exams. So often it is during these monthly self-exams that the first inkling of something wrong is discovered.

Make sure you are getting your mammograms as recommended by your physician. If there is a family history of breast cancer, discuss it with your physician to see if genetic testing would be right for you.

The good news is there are more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States! We want to see that number grow and early detection is how we can achieve that goal.

To those women and men who have fought against breast cancer and survived, we admire and celebrate you. We love to hear stories of hope and perseverance. If you haven’t had a mammogram or are late in getting yours this year, we stand ready to help. For more information on our Mammography Services, call our Imaging Department at 843-339-4790. Until next time … live healthy!

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