In October we wear pink! Sorry Regina George, but pink isn’t only for Wednesday’s. October is breast cancer awareness month, a cause very near to my heart.
Breast cancer, more specifically the BRCA1 gene, runs in my family. Most of the women on my mom’s side of the family have had breast cancer and, thankfully, all have survived. Even without a genetic predisposition, 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. Aka this is a problem that affects everyone!
- Breast cancers occur most commonly in women over the age of 50. About 10% occur in women age 45 or younger.
- most women who get breast cancer have no known family history and no additional risk factors
- What about men?
- Men can get breast cancer too, although it is much more rare. About 1% of all breast cancers occur in men and approximately 1 in 10,000 men will be affected.
Some things that may increase your risk
- mutations in breast cancer genes (BRCA1 or 2)
- family history of breast cancer in a first degree relative (parent, sibling, child)
- radiation to the chest
- personal history of a prior breast cancer
What to look out for
- Any new lump in the breast or armpit
- Dimpling or breast skin
- Pulling in of the nipple
- Nipple discharge other than milk
Screening and prevention
What can you do about it? The answer is screening!
Screening (definition) – a strategy used to identify the presence of an undiagnosed disease in individuals without signs or symptoms.
Mammograms are currently the best way to screen for breast cancer
- Current guidelines from the USPSTF recommend screening with a mammogram every 2 years starting at age 50 for most women without additional risk factors. This is a relatively recent change as previous guidelines recommended starting screening at age 40, however studies show that screening earlier can actually cause more harm than benefit. Risks of early screening include false positive results as well as biopsies and unnecessary procedures. In my practice I have a shared-decision making conversation with each female patient about when to start screening. The decision to screen with mammograms before age 50 is an individual one as some women place more value on the potential benefits than the potential harms.
What about breast exams?
- Being familiar with how your breasts look and feel can help identify any new lumps or changes. At this time, screening with self-breast exams or clinical breast exams (performed by a medical professional) are not recommended as they have not been found to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.
If you think you may be at high risk for breast cancer or are having any concerning symptoms, talk to your doctor!
For more information please visit the CDC website