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Understanding The Signs And Risk Factors For Breast Cancer

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The world over, several governments, international institutions as well as women who have survived breast cancer recognise October as the month of Breast Cancer Awareness. In the spirit of awareness, today we too shall go over breast cancer symptoms and also risk factors for the same.

As with all cancers, catching this condition early improves the survivability rate. That is why you should check yourself regularly for breast cancer symptoms and inform your doctor if you notice anything unusual or new.

What is Breast Cancer?

Cancer is a type of disease in which some cells mutate and begin multiplying rapidly. These cells form lesions, lumps, tumours and can obstruct normal bodily functions. Some cancer can metastasize, meaning it spreads and affects other parts of the body. This spread is referred to as ‘metastasis’.

Breast cancer follows a similar path. It is cancer (out of a total of 100 types) that begins in the tissue of the breast but with time it can spread to other areas. Ductal Carcinoma is a common type of breast cancer, it accounts for approximately 70% to 80% of breast cancer cases.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

Due to many years of awareness and research, it has become easier to treat breast cancer through various means. But identifying the warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer in the early stages is what makes or breaks the success rate of the treatment. After self-examination of your breasts and underarm areas during shower or when you are changing your clothes, here are a few additional signs which are equally important and you can check for:

  • A lump in your breasts or armpits that was previously not there
  • Thickening or swelling of the skin in a particular part of the breasts
  • Dimples, irritation or redness in some part(s) of the breast
  • Flaky skin on the breast or nipple area
  • Changes in the nipple shape (such as pulling in or changes in shape) or changes to the breast
  • Nipple or breast pain
  • Blood or other unusual-looking liquid (excluding milk) leaking from the nipples 

Note that, if you have any of the above conditions singularly it is not a clear indication that you have breast cancer for sure. Similar signs are associated with other medical issues as well. If you discover a few of the mentioned signs and symptoms of breast cancer together, be sure to see your doctor about it.

What are some Risk Factors for Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer risk is a combination of multiple factors, some of which can be altered and others are part of your genetic makeup. If you are at high risk, it does not necessarily mean you will get breast cancer. Conversely, even if you do not have any of the below breast cancer risks, you can still develop cancer.

  • Age– Most breast cancer diagnoses happen after the age of 50, so the older you get the greater the breast cancer risk.
  • Genetics– Genetic mutations can be inherited; certain gene mutations carry a higher risk of breast cancer (such as BRCA1, BRCA2). 
  • Menstrual Cycle– If your menstrual periods started at or before 12, or you started menopause after the age of 55, your risk may be higher.
  • Dense Breast Tissue– Dense tissue in the breasts makes it harder to spot tumours and cancer lesions through mammograms.
  • Family History– If your sister, mother or close relative on either side of the family has had breast or ovarian cancer, your own risk may also be higher.
  • Radiation Therapy– If you were earlier treated with radiation on the chest or breasts (for example during cancer treatment) before the age of 30, you may have an increased breast cancer risk.
  • Personal History– If you had breast cancer or similar conditions (like atypical hyperplasia which is a non-cancerous breast disease), you are more likely to develop breast cancer once again.

What Can You Change?

Unlike the previous section the following factors can be managed and controlled to help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer: 

  • Not getting regular exercise
  • Unaddressed obesity problems, especially after menopause 
  • Having your first pregnancy after 30 and not breastfeeding
  • Hormone replacement therapies (such as progesterone or estrogen used during menopause) if taken for five years or more 
  • Taking oral contraceptive pills at a stretch
  • Alcohol, smoking and exposure to other carcinogenic chemicals 

Conclusion

While developing breast cancer may be a scary thought, breast cancer treatments have progressed a lot over the past few decades. The main purpose of this article is to raise awareness of the potential breast cancer symptoms. If you notice any of the signs covered here, or you think you may be at a higher risk then speak to a doctor at the earliest. Pass this short article on to your friends as well, and let’s help to raise awareness all through this month! 

Disclaimer:

The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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