Breast Cancer Information and Early Detection Tips for Women Ages 50 and OlderWHAT IS BREAST CANCER?
Cancers are a group of diseases that cause cells in the body to change and grow out of control. Most types of cancer cells form a lump or mass called a tumor and are named after the part of the body where the tumor orignates. Therefore, breast cancer begins in the breast, which consists of glands for milk production called lobules, and the ducts that connect the lobules to the nipple. The remainder of the breast is made up of fatty, connective, and lymphatic tissue.
*Illustration taken from Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book
WHAT IS YOUR RISK?
Most women are not aware of the fact that age itself is a risk factor for breast cancer. About 77 percent of the women diagnosed are over the age of 50, and 80 percent of the women who develop breast cancer have no family history of the disease. Women at a higher than average risk for developing breast cancer include those:
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR RISK
According to the National Cancer Institute, doctors cannot always explain why one person develops breast cancer and another doesn't. However, scientists have studied general patterns of cancer in the population to learn what things around us and what things we do in our lives may increase our chance of developing cancer. Some of these so-called risk factors can be controlled (such as our eating and exercise habits), while others cannot (such as our family history and genetic makeup). So although there is no guaranteed way to prevent breast cancer there are some things you can do now that may help reduce your risk:
Early detection of breast cancer saves lives. When breast cancer is found and treated early (while in stage 1 or 2 in which it has not spread beyond the breast), the five-year survival rate is approximately 98 percent. For women over the age of 50, a combination of monthly breast self-exams, annual clinical breast exams, and annual mammograms is the best way to detect breast cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages.
Breast Self-Exam (BSE):
By this time in your life, self-examination of your breasts should be a habit. And because your risk for breast cancer increases as you age, it is very important to continue this healthy routine. If it's not yet a habit, it's never too late to begin. Examine your breasts on the same day every month for physical changes. Monthly exams will allow you to become familiar with your breasts and learn what feels normal. Here are simple instructions for performing a monthly breast self-exam.
Clinical Breast Exam (CBE):
Be sure to ask your health care provider to perform a clinical breast exam each year. During the exam, your health care provider will check your breasts for any changes, lumps or other warning signs of breast cancer.
You should have a mammogram every year. A mammogram is a simple x-ray procedure that examines each breast for abnormalities that are too small to be felt during a clinical or breast self exam. Mammograms can detect breast lumps up to two years before they can be felt.
Breast cancer is often detected in its earliest stage as an abnormality on a mammogram, well before it can be felt by the woman or by her health care provider. If a cancer has grown to the point where physical signs and symptoms are present, you may notice the following:
Breast pain is very commonly due to benign conditions and usually is not a symptom of breast cancer.
Regardless of your age, if you experience any of the above symptoms, see your health care provider immediately.
Information courtesy of the American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Facts & Figures, 2005-2006