Monday, October 5, 2009

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast. It is considered a heterogeneous disease—differing by individual, age group, and even the kinds of cells within the tumors themselves. Obviously no woman wants to receive this diagnosis, but hearing the words “breast cancer” doesn’t always mean an end. It can be the beginning of learning how to fight, getting the facts, and finding hope.

Women in the United States get breast cancer more than any other type of cancer except for skin cancer. It is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death in women.

Each year it is estimated that nearly 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die. Approximately 1,700 men will also be diagnosed with breast cancer and 450 will die each year. The evaluation of men with breast masses is similar to that in women, including mammography.

An Early Breast Cancer Detection Plan should include:

  • Beginning at age 20: Performing breast self-exams and looking for any signs of change.
  • Age 20 to 39: Scheduling clinical breast exams every three years.
  • By the age of 40: Having a baseline mammogram and annual clinical breast exams.
  • Ages 40 to 49: Having a mammogram every one to two years depending on previous findings.
  • Ages 50 and older: Having a mammogram every year.
  • All Ages:
  • — Recording personal exams, mammograms and doctors'
    appointments on a calendar or in a detailed file.
    — Maintaining a healthy weight, following a low-fat diet, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption.

Common signs & symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • A change in how the breast or nipple feels
    You may experience nipple tenderness or notice a lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area.
  • A change in how the breast or nipple looks
    This could mean a change in the size or shape of the breast or a nipple that is turned slightly inward. In addition, the skin of the breast, areola or nipple may appear scaly, red or swollen or may have ridges or pitting that resembles the skin of an orange.
  • Nipple discharge
Risk factors for breast cancer include:
  • Age: Half of all women diagnosed are over age 65.
  • Weight: Being Obese or overweight.
  • Diet & Lifestyle: Lack of physical activity, a diet high in saturated fat, and alcoholic intake of more than two drinks per day.
  • Menstrual & Reproductive History: Early menstruation of late menopause, having your first child at an older age or not having given birth, or taking birth control pills for more than ten years if you are under 35.
  • Family & Personal History: A family history of breast cancer—particularly a mother or sister. or a personal history of breast cancer of benign (non-cancer) breast disease.
  • Medical & Other Factors: Dense breast tissue (often identified by a mammogram), past radiation therapy to the breast or chest area. a history of hormone treatments—such as estrogen and progesterone, or gene changes— including BRCA1. BRCA2, and others.

The Five Steps of a Breast Self Exam

Step 1: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.

Here's what you should look for:

  • Breasts that are their usual size, shape, and color
  • Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling

If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor's attention:

  • Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
  • A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
  • Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
Breast Self Exam - Step 1Breast Self Exam - Step 1

Step 2: Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.

Breast Self Exam - Steps 2 and 3Breast Self Exam - Steps 2 and 3

Step 3: While you're at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).

Step 4: Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter.

Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.

Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you've reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.

Breast Self Exam - Step 4Breast Self Exam - Step 4

Step 5: Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in Step 4.

Breast Self Exam - Step 5Breast Self Exam - Step 5