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What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer

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Breast Cancer is one of the most common cancers in women today. 77% of the women diagnosed with breast cancer are 50 years old or older. 20% of women diagnosed with breast cancer are in their 40s. The good news is that there are fewer deaths related to breast cancer. More good news is that 80% of the women diagnosed with breast cancer have no sign of metastasis. Of these women diagnosed 80% live five years and longer. All the current research points to the importance of prevention and early detection. Learn the myths,the risk factors, and the warning signs of breast cancer and what you can actively do to minimize your risk of breast cancer.

Myths, or statements of untruth, can be very detrimental if taken seriously. Here are the most common myths associated with breast cancer.

  • Breast Cancer only effects older women. This is false. Unfortunately breast cancer can and does target women in their early 20s and 30s. 20% of women diagnosed are in their 40s.
  • No family history means you are not at risk. There are multiple risk factors associated with this disease. Most women diagnosed do not have a family history.
  • No matter what risk factors you have, you do not need to worry until you are through menopause. This is false. The majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer may be through menopause but a large percentage of women diagnosed haven't yet reached menopause. Early detection is vital to a successful outcome.
  • Having a risk factor for breast cancer means that you will get the disease for sure. Having a risk factor means only that--you are at risk. There are no guarantees either way.
  • If you have small breasts you are less likely to get breast cancer. False. Breast size does not matter.
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) causes breast cancer. False again. HRT can increase the risk but it has been found that the risk goes back to normal six months after stopping the HRT. Discuss this with your physician.
  • Mammograms can prevent breast cancer. Mammograms can detect breast cancer. It is a diagnostic screening, not a treatment.

Empower yourself with knowledge. Here are the most common risk factors associated with breast cancer.
  • Family history is a risk factor. Having a blood relative diagnosed with breast cancer puts you at risk.
  • Maintaining inadequate or unhealthy diet is a risk factor. Research has shown that 30% off all cancers can be attributed to this in some way.
  • Obesity or weight gain in adulthood is a risk factor. It has been shown that there is a 4% increase of risk for each 11 pounds gained. What is the correlation? There is a higher production of estrogen outside of the ovaries in bodies with higher levels of fat.
  • Prolonged estrogen exposure is a risk factor. How does a woman have prolonged estrogen exposure? If she started her menstruation before she was 12 years old she could experience prolonged estrogen exposure. If a woman cycles through menopause late in her 50s she could experience prolonged estrogen exposure. Taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for more than five years can give a woman prolonged estrogen exposure. And, never having a pregnancy can result in prolonged estrogen exposure.
  • High socioeconomic status is a risk factor. How can breast cancer relate to the dollar? Women in higher economic status tend to put off having their first child until after they are 30 years old. Breaking this down further, research has shown that immature breast tissue is more susceptible to breast cancer. A breast is immature until it goes into milk production.
  • Drinking two to three alcoholic drinks a day increases a woman's risk 21%. How is this possible? The alcohol inhibits the liver's ability to regulate blood estrogens.
What are the warning signs of breast cancer? The most common warning signs are listed here. This list is not all-inclusive. Having regular check-ups with your clinician is a positive action to taking charge of your health.
  • A lump in your breast or under your arm. You have lymph nodes under your arm.
  • A change in the size or contour of the breast can be a sign of breast cancer.
  • Flattening, twisted or indentations of breast tissue can be a sign of breast cancer.
  • Retraction or inversion of the nipple can be a sign.
  • Redness of breast tissue or the skin covering the breast can be a sign of breast cancer.
  • Spontaneous discharge from a nipple can be a sign. The discharge can be clear or bloody.
  • Fatigue and loss of appetite are symptoms of late stage breast cancer.
  • Your instinct. You are the best person to know what is normal and what is not with your body. If you ever have a "feeling" that something isn't right--trust your instincts and seek the opinion of a respected physican, nurse practitioner or physician assistant as soon as possible.

These are warning signs of breast cancer. IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW THAT ANY OF THESE SIGNS CAN APPEAR WITHOUT BREAST CANCER PRESENT. Only your physician can determine is breast cancer is present.

What can you do to minimize your risk or detect the signs of breast cancer early?

  • Have regular breast examinations. Do self examinations to your breasts every month. Get screened by a clinician you trust. Discuss what tests are needed and what time intervals according to your age and risk factors. Mammograms are recommended every one to two years beginning at age 40, earlier if indicated by your clinician.
  • Find out your risks with breast cancer. Ask your OB/GYN or other clinician to calculate your risks. Knowledge is power.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and diet. Give your body at least five servings of vegetables and fruits a day.
  • Stay fit.
  • If you smoke, stop.
  • Know the warning signs of breast cancer. Early detection is key to successful treatment of breast cancer.
Learn More About Breast Cancer

One out of eight women will be told that she has breast cancer. It is not an automatic death sentence. Early detection and treatment are important for a successful outcome. Empower yourself with knowledge. Know your risk factors. Take an active role in lowering your risk. Have that much needed conversation with your physician. Take charge of your health.

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