October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, dedicated to raising awareness about breast cancer risks, the importance of early detection through screening, and treatment options available. An estimated 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, with rates of breast cancer increasing in women over age 70.
The best way to protect yourself against breast cancer is to understand the facts and be aware of the warning signs. Read on to learn some of the essential facts you should know about breast cancer detection, risk factors, and outlook.
If you have a family history of breast cancer, your risk is increased. However, having no family history does not get you off the hook. Over 85% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
The strongest risk factors for getting breast cancer are being female and getting older. Other factors may increase the risk of getting the disease, but there aren’t any official categories for what constitutes “high risk.”
Other risk factors include:
- Being obese
- Carrying the gene mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2
- Getting your first period at age 12
- Giving birth for the first time after 30
- Never being pregnant
- Taking hormone therapy
- Starting menopause late (after age 55)
There’s some disagreement about what age women should start getting annual mammograms, but the consensus is that by the time you’re 50, it should become an annual routine.
Signs and Symptoms
While a lump or mass in the breast is known to be the most common symptom of breast cancer, there are many other symptoms that may go undetected. These can include swelling, skin irritation, pain in the nipple or breast, redness, or nipple discharge—many of which can also be symptoms of other conditions, or of nothing more than the natural variation of your breasts. This is why regular doctor’s visits and mammograms are important for early detection.
Early detection of breast cancer improves the outlook of treatment and survival. The relative 5-year survival rate for stage 0 and stage 1 breast cancer is 100%. At stage 2, it’s 93%. These are only estimates; they can’t predict what the outcome will be for individual cases. However, the earlier you catch breast cancer, the better the outlook tends to be.
Not Just Women
It’s true—men can get breast cancer too, although their rates are much lower. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 2,300 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in men every year, compared to 230,000 cases diagnosed in women. However, the majority of these cases are diagnosed in men aged 60 to 70 years old. Risk factors for men include genetic mutations, radiation exposure, high levels of estrogen, and family history. Detection, treatment, and prognosis are similar for men as for women.
To learn more about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s website.