About 12 percent of all women will develop some type of breast cancer during their lifetime. It is the second most common cancer in women, following skin cancer, and makes up nearly a third of all cancers diagnosed in women. When found and treated early, the survival rates are pretty good. The more you know about breast cancer and the warning signs, the better your chances of discovering it early and getting proper treatment. Breast cancer awareness is something that should be a vital part of every woman’s education.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Hallicious
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
- Those with a personal or family history of breast cancer are at a higher risk. Certain gene mutations may play a role in increasing your risk.
- Women who started their period before age 12 have a slightly higher chance of developing breast cancer than those who started it later.
- Your chances of developing this type of cancer increase after age 55.
- Smokers are at a higher risk than non-smokers.
Warning Signs of Breast Cancer
While the best way to detect cancer early is to schedule regular check-ups and mammograms, some early warning signs may indicate that you should go ahead and move that appointment up. These include:
- Feeling a lump or hard area inside your breast or near your underarm.
- Swelling of the breasts not attributed to your menstrual cycle. Some women experience pain and swelling close to their periods, but if you never have before and suddenly do, get it checked out.
- Changes in the size and shape of your breasts.
- Itchy, peeling, or cracking nipples.
- Sudden nipple discharge, especially if it is bloody.
It is important to keep in mind that, sometimes, there are no symptoms until the disease progresses. Remember, routine exams are the best way to catch breast cancer early.
How to Do a Breast Cancer Self-Exam
Since most women only see the gynecologist once a year, routine self-exams are an important part of detecting breast cancer early. If you notice any of the above warning signs during your exam, contact your doctor for an earlier visit.
- Start out by looking at your breasts in the mirror. Note any changes, such as in the overall size and shape, and any strange markings, rashes, or spots. Check for fluids coming out of your nipples as well.
- Raise both arms high over your head and look again for the same changes.
- Lay down on your back and use your right hand to feel your left breast, and vice-versa. Keep your fingers flat and apply firm but gentle pressure. Feel your breasts in a circular motion, noting any lumps, hard spots, or sore areas.
- Make sure you cover the entire breast from top to bottom and all around.
- Do the same exam while standing up with your arm raised over your head, using the opposite hand to examine the breast.
Ideally, you should repeat this exam once a month, preferably at the same time each month. Breasts change throughout your cycle, so that’s why it’s important to do it around the same time.