Every October, you can expect cooler weather, Halloween decorations and an outburst of breast cancer awareness. This month is dedicated to speaking out about treatments, cures and stories of survival revolving around the disease. So, let's get back to the basics when it comes to breast cancer.
Signs and symptoms
Regular self-breast exams can be beneficial in catching cancer early. There are a number of signs that may be a cause for concern. A few of these are:
- Differences in the feel of the breast or nipples, which can include skin texture changes or a lump1
- Changes to the look of the area, such as unexplained size or shape differences
- Discharge from the nipple, which is especially of concern if it is clear or bloody
These symptoms don't indicate a positive diagnosis for breast cancer. In many cases, there is another health explanation. However, those who experience any of these issues should schedule an appointment with a medical professional to get things checked out.
Causes and risks
When breast cells form abnormally, it may lead to breast cancer. Although medical professionals are unsure what causes these abnormalities, there are few causes that may put an individual at a greater risk for developing it. Some causes for concern may include:
- There's a small chance that family history may be a reason to worry, as 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are linked to gene mutations that have been passed on.2
- Once menopause hits, women are at a greater risk for developing breast cancer, as more than 80 percent of female diagnoses are made at age 50 or older.3
- Benign breast lumps – specifically atypical ductal hyperplasia and lobular carcinoma in situ – may develop into cancer later in life.
- Unhealthy lifestyles that lead to obesity or include high alcohol consumption should be avoided in order to prevent breast cancer.
There are a number of other health and lifestyle triggers that can lead to breast cancer for some people. Additionally, those who experience one of these risks aren't necessarily diagnosed with the condition.
When someone undergoes treatment for breast cancer, doctors aim to both remove as much of the cancer cells from the body as possible and prevent the disease from returning in the future. The most common types of treatment are:
- Many cancerous masses are removed with surgery by way of a mastectomy or lumpectomy. Each of these types have a number of variations within their realms.4
- Radiation may be used to treat breast cancer symptoms following a surgical procedure to help prevent the disease from returning.5
- Other therapies often used to treat the condition include chemotherapy, hormone therapy and biological therapy.
Depending on the doctor and diagnosis, treatment options and combinations may vary. Additionally, there are regularly new clinical trials in progress that look to finding new successful ways to cure breast cancer. For instance, new research from the American Cancer Society has found a positive link between walking and reducing the risk for breast cancer.6 Ultimately, it is up to the patient to decide which course of action is best for their needs.
1 Notional Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., "Symptoms and signs"
2 Mayo Clinic, "Breast cancer: causes"
3 Medical News Today, "What is breast cancer? What causes breast cancer?" July 17, 2012
4 WebMD, "Breast cancer treatment" May 9, 2012
5 WebMD. "Radiation therapy for breast cancer" May 18, 2013
6 Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, "Recreational physical activity and leisure-time sitting in relation to postmenopausal breast cancer risk" October 2013