Protection Through Detection

Breast cancer is easily treated—if it’s spotted in time. That means keeping an eye out for the early signs and symptoms such as lumps, unusual changes in breast size or shape, redness or pits developing in the breast that give it the texture of an orange skin, other changes in the skin especially around the nipple, and bloody discharge. Many women first realize they have breast cancer due to spotting a lump in the breast tissue, either by chance, or when pointed out by an intimate partner, or during a deliberate self-examination.

One in eight women will develop breast cancer, but some are more at risk than others. Hormone are known to play a role in the development of breast cancer, meaning fluctuations in hormones can affect risk. Women who have had more periods—women who had early menarche, has late menopause, or never had children—are at higher risk. The hormone connection is also why women on hormone replacement therapy are more likely to get breast cancer. Of all types of cancers, breast cancer has one of the most direct genetic links, though women without the "breast caner genes" can develop it as well; while only about ten percent of patients have the mutations associated with cancer, women who do have the mutations are almost certain to develop cancer.

That’s why genetic testing is so often performed on women who fear they might get breast caner, especially if there is a family history. However, not having the mutation doesn’t mean a woman is in the clear. Medical professionals recommend that women between the ages of 50 and 74 get mammograms every two years, and younger women who are at risk for any reason. Women over 74 are not advised to get screened, because at that age the treatment itself becomes dangerous.

Breast cancer responds to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but treatment often involves mastectomy, the complete removal of one or both breasts. This is particularly common if the cancer is recurring or if there is considered to be a high risk of recurrence, though breast cancer frequently recurs anyway. Recently, scientists have started to understand how breast cancer spreads to other organs, and begun to develop strategies to stop it, which could point the way to new treatments in the future.

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