By Carole Van Holbeck, MSAN Mental Health and Wellness Contributor
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer experienced by women. 1 in 8 (about 12%) of women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. Men can also develop the disease (1 in 1,000.)
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. This campaign is designed to increase awareness of the disease and remind women to have annual screenings to detect the disease in its early stages.
What puts you at risk for developing breast cancer?
- Being a woman (although men CAN develop breast cancer, too.)
- Family history.
- Race and ethnicity.
- Starting menstruation before age 12.
- Starting menopause after age 55.
- Chest radiation.
- Exposure to DES.
- Alcohol consumption.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Not enough exercise.
- Having no children or children after the age of 30.
- Taking oral contraceptives.
- Hormone therapy after menopause.
- Chemicals in the environment.
- Tobacco smoke. (American Cancer Society)
What are possible symptoms of the disease?
- A new lump in the breast or armpit.
- Thickening or swelling anywhere in the breast.
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or on the breast.
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk.)
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast.
However, the reality is that breast cancer can be in the early stages and show none of the symptoms listed above. This is why early detection is so important.
Screening guidelines for breast cancer have recently changed. According to the American Cancer Society,
- Women ages 40-44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.
- Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every two years, or have the choice to continue annual screening.
Because formal breast screenings do not occur before age 40, self examination is crucial! No breast is typical. What is normal for you might not be normal for another woman. Do not be afraid to feel your breasts so you know what is normal for you. If you have questions about how to conduct a self breast exam, make an appointment with your medical provider.
The good news is that if caught early, the survival rate for women diagnosed with localized breast cancer (cancer that has not spread to lymph nodes or outside the breast) is 98.5%.
So military spouses – encourage your friends and loved ones to be aggressive about self-examinations and screenings. The life they save could be theirs!
To learn more about what you can do to fight breast cancer, visit MSAN’s website. Click under the Resources tab; click Mental Health and Wellness; and look under the Health section.