Aside from skin cancer, breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer that a woman can contract. An estimated 12 percent of women will be diagnosed with it at some point in her life. At Community Access Network, we want to equip you with the knowledge you need to stay healthy or be prepared if a cancer prognosis ever arises, so here’s what you need to know about breast cancer.
What Is Breast Cancer?
To understand what breast cancer is, it will be helpful to first understand what cancer as a general condition is. Normal, healthy cells undergo a process called mitosis to divide and replace one another, and they do so at a regular rate. However, when the genes in the nucleus (or control center) of a cell undergo mutation (or abnormal change), the uncontrolled growth of cells can result. These cells then form tumors, which are masses of these growing cells. Tumors can be benign (not dangerous) or malignant (harmful to your health). The malignant tumors have the potential to continue growing and spreading and become cancer if they remain untreated. These cancerous tumors can be the result of changes in genetic behavior, exposure to environmental hazards such as overexposure to radiation from the sun, harmful chemicals or aging.
Breast cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells within the breast. Men can get it, but it is far more common in women. Breast cancer in women most often begins in the milk-producing glands, or lobules, of the breast or in the passages that drain milk from the lobules to the nipple, known as the ducts. If a cancerous tumor in the breast spreads far enough, it can invade the lymph nodes of the underarm area. The lymph nodes are organs that remove foreign and harmful substances from the body, so if the cancer reaches them, it has the potential to spread to the rest of the body much more quickly. This is why it’s important to catch breast cancer early.
3 Things You Should Know About Breast Cancer
Some symptoms of breast cancer include:
- Breast swelling
- Irritation or dimpling in the skin of the breast
- Breast pain
- Redness, thickening or scaliness of any part of the breast
- Nipple pain or turning inward
- Non-breast-milk nipple discharge
- A lump (particularly a strangely shaped one) in the underarm area
2. How to minimize risk
- Eat healthy: Maintaining a good diet will help your body stay well and as resistant to disease as possible, which includes fighting off cancer. An unhealthy diet, along with being overweight, can also increase your chance of getting breast cancer.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking is linked to a wide variety of diseases and risk factors, not the least of which is cancer. Smoking allows toxins into your body which can cause mutations in cells that result in cancer.
- Limit alcohol consumption: Drinking any kind of alcohol affects the hormones in a woman’s body, especially estrogen, which can lead to breast cancer. Alcohol can also damage the DNA in cells, which further increases the risk of getting cancer.
- Be aware of family history: If you have a close relative (i.e. mother or sister) who has had breast cancer, your risk is doubled. If two or more close relatives have been diagnosed, your risk is five times higher than normal. Genetics play a large part in the development of breast cancer, so make sure to pay attention to the warning signs.
- Find natural alternatives: Be aware of dangerous chemicals in your day-to-day environment, which can include the chemicals in your food and water, household cleaners, cosmetics, plastics and more. Take measures to protect yourself against harmful chemicals, such as finding natural alternatives.
3. How to check for breast cancer
- Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Check them for the signs listed above. Also check for abnormality in their usual size, shape or color. Then raise your arms and look for the same signs.
- Check the tissue of your breasts with your fingers, making sure to cover the entire breast. Using a firm but gentle touch, look for strange lumps or any other suspicious activity within the breasts.
- Schedule a regular mammogram if you’re over the age of 45 or have a prior history, and stay up-to-date with routine gynecology exams to stay on top of changes.
If you think you could be at risk for breast cancer, or if you have experienced any of the warning signs, contact your doctor immediately. At Community Access Network, we’re here to help you get the care you need so that you can continue to live well. Visit us today or contact us to schedule an appointment!