Breast Cancer Awareness

Breast Cancer knows no limits. No boundaries. No age. No gender. No ethnicity. It can be all encompassing. Those with a family history may expect it, while others never see it coming.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and is an annual campaign to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer, which is the most common cancer among women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer during her life.

Although most breast cancers are diagnosed in older women, in rare cases breast cancer does affect women under the age of 45. About 9 percent of all breast cancer cases in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age. Many young women do not know their risk for breast cancer or ways to manage their risk.

Breast cancer in young women is—

  • More likely to be hereditarythan breast cancer in older women.
  • More common among African American women.
  • More likely to be found at a later stage, and is often more aggressive and difficult to treat.
  • Often coupled with unique issues, including concerns about body image, sexual health, fertility, feelings of isolation, mental health support, and the financial burden of treatment and care.

All women are at risk for getting breast cancer, but some things can raise a woman’s risk for getting breast cancer before age 45. It is important to learn what factors increase your chance of getting breast cancer and to talk with your health care provider about your concerns. Below are signs to help you assess your risk for early breast cancer.

  • You have close relatives who were diagnosed with breast cancer before age 45, especially if more than one relative was diagnosed or if a male relative had breast cancer.
  • You or a close relative were diagnosed with ovarian cancer at any age.
  • You have changes in certain breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), or have close relatives with these changes, but have not been tested yourself.
  • You received radiation therapy to the breast or chest during childhood or early adulthood.
  • You have had breast cancer or certain other breast health problems, such as lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), atypical ductal hyperplasia, or atypical lobular hyperplasia.
  • You have been told that you have dense breasts on a mammogram.

Do any of these characteristics describe you? If so, talk to your doctor about your family history and other risk factors you might have.

Learning your family history of cancer, from both your mother’s and father’s sides, can help you know if you have a higher risk for getting breast or ovarian cancer at a young age. The CDC offers a mobile health app, My Family Health Portrait: Cancer, which can help you collect your family’s history or cancer and help you understand your risk.

While you cannot control your family health history, making healthy lifestyle choices like keeping a healthy weight, getting enough physical activity, and breastfeeding your babies can help you lower your risk of getting breast cancer.

Learning the symptoms of breast cancer also may also help you know when to talk to your doctor.

Some warning signs of breast cancer are—

  • New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
  • Pain in any area of the breast.
  • A breast is red and feels warm.

If you have any signs or symptoms that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away. They may be caused by something other than cancer. The only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor.

Breast self-exam can be an important way to discover breast cancer early, when it’s more likely to be treated successfully. Steps for self-exam include:

Step 1: Examine Your Breasts in a Mirror with Hands on Hips – Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Look for breasts that are their usual size, shape, and color; breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling. If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor’s attention: Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out), redness, soreness, rash, or swelling.

Step 2: Raise Arms and Examine Your Breasts – Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.

Step 3: Look for Signs of Breast Fluid – While you’re at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both).

Step 4: Feel for Breast Lumps – While lying down, check for breast lumps or abnormalities by feeling your breasts, using your right hand to feel your left breast, and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Press down with your fingers and move them in a circular motion that’s about the size of a quarter (or an inch around). Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage. Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.

Step 5: Feel Your Breasts for Lumps – Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in step 4.