Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer found in Canadian women. It is estimated that in 2008 over 22,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and over 5,000 will ultimately lose their life due to this disease. Over 400 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every week in Canada on average; as well an average of 100 women die due to this illness every week. Men are also at risk for breast cancer, with an estimated 170 diagnosed cases in 2008 with 50 fatalities.
Early detection is crucial for successful treatment and survival for women who have breast cancer. Every woman, regardless of age and medical history should regularly examine their breasts in order to detect any abnormalities. Breast cancer is most often detected when a lump is found in the breast and/or armpit. These lumps are usually painless. Other signs of potential breast cancer may include:
• Changes in breast size and/or shape;
• Dimpling and/or puckering of the skin that resembles an orange peel;
• Thickening of the breast skin;
• Redness, swelling, and/or increased warmth in the affected breast;
• Inversion of the nipple;
• Crusting and/or scaling of the nipple.
Women of all ages should be aware of their breasts in order to be able to detect any changes. This can be achieved through looking at your breasts as well as touching them in order to detect any changes. Some women may experience changes that are due to their menstrual cycle; these are important to note in order to determine if anything unusual is happening. Breast tissue may also change with a woman’s age. When doing self breast examinations, remember that breast tissue covers not only the breast, but extends up to the collarbone as well as from the armpit across to the breastbone in the centre of the chest. It is recommended to do breast self-examinations monthly for all women, even those who are having regular screening tests.
The majority of women who develop breast cancer have no risk factors other than being a women as well as aging (especially for women 50 and older). However, your risk factor can be higher if:
• You have already had breast cancer;
• You have a family history of breast cancer, especially if your mother, sister and/or daughter have been diagnosed before menopause;
• You have a family history of ovarian cancer;
• You have an above average exposure to estrogen (which your body naturally produces). This could be due to:
- Not having given birth for the first time before the age of 30;
- Menstrual cycle starting at an early age;
- Beginning menopause later than the average age;
- Have taken hormone replacement therapy for more than 5 years;
- Having dense breast tissue;
- Having a history of breast biopsies that show certain breast changes, i.e. increased number of abnormal cells that are not cancerous (atypical hyperplasia);
- Having had radiation treatment to the chest area, especially before the age of 30.
Women who may have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer include:
• Women who are obese, especially after menopause;
• Women who regularly drink alcohol;
• Women who have regularly taken birth control pills.
It is important to remember that most women who develop breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease; as well, some women may develop breast cancer without having any of these risk factors present in their lives.
The next blog that will be posted will give in-depth information regarding diagnosis, staging and treatment. Please post in the comment section if you have any questions regarding this or any other health related topic. We would like to invite all our readers to suggest ideas that they would find informative!