October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the U.S.  Some 266,000 American women had  been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 and some 40,000 died from it. Although, we usually associate breast cancer in women, it does rarely occur in men.

The most common symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • A breast lump.
  • Any change in the nipple especially discharge or bleeding.
  • A change to the breast skin such as appearance of a dimple or pitting of the skin like the skin of an orange.
  • A change in size or shape of the breast.

It is not clear why some women get breast cancer and some don’t. It would seem that breast cancer is caused by an interaction between one’s genetic make-up and/or one’s environment. Some 10 percent of breast cancer can be linked to inherited defective genes passed down through generations of a family. Blood tests are available to determine who may have these genes.

Known risk factors for breast cancer are:

  • Increasing age; more common in women over the age of 55.
  • A family or personal history of breast cancer.
  • Inherited genes.
  • Beginning menstruation at a young age or beginning menopause at an older age.
  • Post-menopausal hormone therapy using a combination of estrogen and progesterone.
  • Drinking alcohol.
  • Breast density

Tests and procedures to detect breast cancer include:

  • Breast exam including your own self-exams as well as routine exams from your doctor.
  • Mammograms.
  • Breast ultrasounds.
  • Needle biopsy (remove a specimen of the suspected tissue for examination).
  • Women with very dense breasts should talk with their doctor about receiving more advanced imaging techniques.

Fortunately, the majority of breast changes do not turn out to be cancer. Even if you have had a recent normal mammogram, see your doctor if you find any changes in your breasts. After reading the literature and speaking with doctors who read and interpret mammograms, I would recommend that mammograms be started on women at age 40 and be done on a yearly basis. However, I would  advise that you follow your health care provider's advice on this matter.

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