It’s time to think pink as October is breast cancer awareness month, and we are doing our bit by increasing awareness of the disease. About 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer at some stage of their life. Being aware of the risk factors and symptoms is very important, as early detection is extremely important for treatment and diagnosis of the disease. 98% of women who detect breast cancer early are successfully treated. Always remember ‘early detection is the best defense’.
Gender: Simply being a woman increases your chances of getting breast cancer. Men can develop breast cancer too, but it is 100 times more common in women.
Age: As you get older, your risk of getting breast cancer increases. About 2 in 3 breast cancers are found in women who are 55 years or older.
Family History: Breast cancer is higher in women who have a family history of the disease. Having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk.
Breast Density: Women with dense breast tissues are more likely to develop breast cancer. The density of breast cancer can be determined by a mammogram. Once you reach 50 years of age, you must make sure you are getting a mammogram every 2 years. If you have many of the risk factors for breast cancer, you might need to start getting mammograms earlier.
Start of Menstruation: Women who have started menstruating early (before age 12), or went through menopause later (after age 55) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. The increase in risk may be due to a longer lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Pregnancy: Women who have had no children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher breast cancer risk overall. Having many pregnancies and becoming pregnant at a young age reduce breast cancer risk overall.
Contraception: Women who take oral contraceptive pills have an increased risk of developing breast cancer than those who do not, this will depend on if you have other risk factors or not.
Breastfeeding: Prolonged breastfeeding (for 1.5 to 2 years) has been shown in several studies to decrease mother’s risk of developing breast cancer.
Smoking: Long-term heavy smoking is related to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. This risk is specifically high in women who started smoking before they had their first child.
Listening to your body and tracking changes is one of the best ways of noticing any unusual changes from the earliest stages. You should check your breasts every month, about one week after your menstruation.
Step 1 – Lie down on your back with your one arm hand behind your back. Use your three middle fingers to examine each breast.
Step 2 – Move your fingers in an up and down pattern and carefully examine the texture of your breasts, gradually increasing pressure. You should examine up to the collarbone, out to the armpit, in to the middle of the chest, and down to the bottom of the ribcage.
Step 3 – While doing this, look out for:
1. Redness of the breasts
2. Changes in shape or size
3. Any discharge
4. Armpit swelling
5. Thickened skin texture
Step 4 – If you see any of the above signs or notice any other changes, visit a doctor immediately.