In October, we are focusing on Breast Cancer Awareness. hipS-sister will be donating $2.50 for every pink Left Coast and every pink Lil Sister sold on the website for the entire month.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in the cells of the breast. A malignant tumor is a group of cancer cells that can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. The disease occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get it, too.
Types of breast cancers
Breast cancer can be separated into several types based on the way the cancer cells look under the microscope. In some cases a single breast tumor can be a combination of these types or be a mixture of invasive and in situ cancer. And in some rarer types of breast cancer, the cancer cells may not form a tumor at all.
Breast cancer can also be classified based on proteins on or in the cancer cells, into groups like hormone receptor-positive or triple-negative.
What are the key statistics about breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. About 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.
The American Cancer Society's estimates for breast cancer in the United States for 2014 are:
◾ About 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
◾ About 62,570 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
◾ About 40,000 women will die from breast cancer
After increasing for more than 2 decades, female breast cancer incidence rates began decreasing in 2000, then dropped by about 7% from 2002 to 2003. This large decrease was thought to be due to the decline in use of hormone therapy after menopause that occurred after the results of the Women's Health Initiative were published in 2002. This study linked the use of hormone therapy to an increased risk of breast cancer and heart diseases. Incidence rates have been stable in recent years.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. The chance that breast cancer will be responsible for a woman's death is about 1 in 36 (about 3%). Death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1989, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. These decreases are believed to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment.
At this time there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. (This includes women still being treated and those who have completed treatment.)
What are the risk factors for breast cancer?
A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease, such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, exposing skin to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for cancers of the lung, mouth, larynx (voice box), bladder, kidney, and several other organs.
But risk factors don't tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get the disease. Most women who have one or more breast cancer risk factors never develop the disease, while many women with breast cancer have no apparent risk factors (other than being a woman and growing older). Even when a woman with risk factors develops breast cancer, it is hard to know just how much these factors might have contributed.
Some risk factors, like a person's age or race, can't be changed. Others are linked to cancer-causing factors in the environment. Still others are related to personal behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, and diet. Some factors influence risk more than others, and your risk for breast cancer can change over time, due to factors such as aging or lifestyle.
Read more about the risk factors here.
Can breast cancer be prevented?
There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. But there are things all women can do that might reduce their risk and help increase the odds that if cancer does occur, it will be found at an early, more treatable stage.
Lowering your risk
You can lower your risk of breast cancer by changing those risk factors that can be changed.
Body weight, physical activity, and diet have all been linked to breast cancer, so these might be areas where you can take action.
Both increased body weight and weight gain as an adult are linked with a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause. Alcohol also increases risk of breast cancer. Even low levels of alcohol intake have been linked with an increase in risk.
Many studies have shown that moderate to vigorous physical activity is linked with lower breast cancer risk.
A diet that is rich in vegetables, fruit, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products has also been linked with a lower risk of breast cancer in some studies. But it is not clear if specific vegetables, fruits, or other foods can lower risk. Most studies have not found that lowering fat intake has much of an effect on breast cancer risk.
At this time, the best advice about diet and activity to possibly reduce the risk of breast cancer is to:
◾ Get regular, intentional physical activity.
◾ Reduce your lifetime weight gain by limiting your calories and getting regular physical activity.
◾ Avoid or limit your alcohol intake.
Women who choose to breastfeed for at least several months may also get an added benefit of reducing their breast cancer risk.
Not using hormone therapy after menopause can help you avoid raising your risk.
It’s not clear at this time if environmental chemicals that have estrogen-like properties (like those found in some plastic bottles or certain cosmetics and personal care products) increase breast cancer risk. If there is an increased risk, it is likely to be very small. Still, women who are concerned may choose to avoid products that contain these substances when possible.
Other than lifestyle changes, the most important action a woman can take is to follow the American Cancer Society's guidelines for early detection (outlined in the section "Can breast cancer be found early?"). Early detection will not prevent breast cancer, but it can help find it when the likelihood of successful treatment is greatest.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer
Widespread use of screening mammograms has increased the number of breast cancers found before they cause any symptoms. Still, some breast cancers are not found by mammogram, either because the test was not done or because, even under ideal conditions, mammograms do not find every breast cancer.
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancerous, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded. They can even be painful. For this reason, it is important to have any new breast mass or lump or breast change checked by a health care professional experienced in diagnosing breast diseases.
Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:
◾ Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
◾ Skin irritation or dimpling
◾ Breast or nipple pain
◾ Nipple retraction (turning inward)
◾ Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
◾ Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
Sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast tissue is large enough to be felt. Swollen lymph nodes should also be reported to your doctor.
Although any of these symptoms can be caused by things other than breast cancer, if you have them, they should be reported to your doctor so that he or she can find the cause.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
Breast cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear, but many women with early breast cancer have no symptoms. This is why getting the recommended screening tests before any symptoms develop is so important.
Research into the causes, prevention, and treatment of breast cancer is being done in many medical centers throughout the world. Learn more about what's new in breast cancer research and treatment here.
Get involved. Make a difference.
There are many ways you can get involved in raising awareness for breast cancer. From walks, runs and charity events, to donating your time and/or money. There are many trusted organizations to choose from. Ask you family and friends, they will likely know someone who is looking for pledges. Any way you can help makes an impact in the lives of those living with breast cancer and in the lives of those who have yet to be diagnosed.
P.S. Don't forget to schedule your yearly physical exam with your family doctor. Early detection is key!