Around one in eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. It is the most common cancer found in women next to skin cancers. It is important to remember that men can be diagnosed with breast cancer too.
Whether it’s a personal diagnosis or that of a loved one, finding answers to your questions and a supportive community that understands the experience can make all the difference in a patient’s journey. As with any type of cancer, early detection is key.
By finding breast cancer in its early stages, patients are often less likely to need aggressive treatments and are more likely to be cured of their disease. That’s why it’s important to perform regular self-exams and to be familiar with your body so you can recognize any unusual changes to your breasts. Of course, if you’re over 40 years of age, these measures should be done in conjunction with an annual mammogram screening.
So, what signs should you look out for when it comes to breast cancer? Most often, people will look and feel for lumps in their breast or armpits. That’s not the only symptom someone might experience, thickening or swelling of a certain part of the breast, irritation or dimpling. red or flaky skin around your nipple or breast, pain or pulling in the nipple area, nipple discharge, changes in size or pain in any area could also be signs of breast cancer.
Some of these symptoms can also be indicative of other conditions, but if you notice these symptoms, you should contact your doctor for guidance. It’s important to remember that breast cancer may not always present as a lump and by the time it does, it’s possible it could have spread to other parts of the body.
Some individuals may be at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Some risk factors include experiencing menopause after age 55, genetic mutations or family history of breast or ovarian cancer, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, obesity and even dense breasts can all put you at a high risk of developing this cancer. Unfortunately, getting older and being a woman also put you at greater risk.
Though some individuals may have more risk factors than others, it doesn’t mean they will automatically get breast cancer, and it also doesn’t mean that those with no risk factors are immune. The truth is that anyone can be diagnosed with breast cancer. It is for that reason that screening is so critical, not just during breast cancer awareness month but all year round.
As pink begins to paint our communities this month to raise awareness about this disease and promote research to cure this cancer, I encourage you to take proactive steps to increase your awareness about your own health. Learn how to perform a self-exam correctly. Be observant of any changes to your body. Stay informed and empowered to put your health care first. Schedule your mammogram.
Don’t be afraid to call your doctor if you notice changes to your breasts. These are small but powerful steps you can take now that could be the difference in detecting breast cancer early.
*Dr. Mita Patel is a Breast Surgical Oncologist and Medical Director of the Nationally Accredited Breast Center at Mercy Health. Her previous experiences include Cleveland Clinic Physician, Assistant Professor of Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, and Case Western Reserve University.