The Bottom Line on Breast Cancer

Posted: September 25, 2018 Author: Patti Dipanfilo

It’s October. Everybody knows it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Look around. You see pink everywhere. The color is a reminder to get the facts about breast cancer and then get screened. Don’t think this doesn’t apply to you, men. You can get breast cancer, too, even though it’s much more common in women.

Consider these statistics. About one in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. This year, an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the US, as well as 63,960 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.

Sadly, an estimated 40,920 American women are expected to die in 2018 from breast cancer.

Listen up, men. An estimated 2.550 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in American men in 2018. You have a one in 1,000 chance of developing breast cancer over your lifetime. It’s much lower than the risk in women, but it’s still a risk.

Let’s start at the beginning. Breast cancer happens when cells in the breast start growing  uncontrollably. Most of the time, but not always, these extra cells collect and form tumors. These are the lumps that can be detected in the breasts on your self-exams or mammograms.

Feeling a lump in your breast is one warning sign of breast cancer, but there are others as well. You might notice thickening, swelling or dimpling of an area of your breast. Look for red or flaky skin, or other changes near the nipple, as well as any secretion from the nipple other than breast milk. Pain in the breast could also be a sign of breast cancer.

If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Breast cancer is the result of a mutation or abnormal change in the genes that regulate the growth and reproduction of breast cells. Only about five to ten percent of breast cancers are caused by mutations passed on from your parents. The rest are caused by abnormal changes that occur as a result of aging and life in general.

That makes getting older a risk factor for breast cancer, one you can’t do anything about. Other risk factors out of your control include inheriting a genetic mutation, getting your period before age 12 and menopause after 55, having dense breasts, having a personal or family history of breast cancer and having been treated with radiation therapy.

There are also risk factors for breast cancer that you can do something about, things like being physically inactive, being overweight, drinking a lot of alcohol and taking hormones. In addition, having your first baby after age 30, not breastfeeding and never having a full-term pregnancy can also increase the risk of breast cancer.

You can’t change your age or your genes, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. A few of these suggestions are no-brainers. We already know that we should maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and limit our alcohol consumption to no more than one drink a day.

These suggestions you may not have heard. For one, think hard and have a heart-to-heart discussion with your doctor about the risks of taking the Pill or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). They may not be right for you. If you have a baby, consider breastfeeding, if you’re able. If you have a family history or a genetic mutation, talk to your doctor about things you can do to lessen your risk.

With breast cancer, as with most cancers, detecting it early is critical to treatment success. It’s best to find it before the cancer cells have had a chance to invade the nearby lymph nodes and spread to other areas of the body from there. Maintaining a routine screening schedule can assist with early detection.

The first part of the screening process is regular breast self-exams. You know the look and feel of your breasts, so you’re likely to notice changes such as lumps, pain, or differences in size or shape. You should also get regular clinical breast exams by a doctor or nurse, who use their hands to feel your breasts for lumps.


The next step is to get a mammogram. The current recommendations are that women ages 50 to 74 at average risk should get a mammogram every two years. Women 40 to 49 should talk to their doctors about when to start and how often to get the test. If lumps are detected, your doctor may perform a biopsy to determine if their cells are cancerous.

If cancer is detected, there are many approaches to treating it. Doctors often use more than one approach on each patient.

Chemotherapy is a common approach. It uses drugs to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Surgery, called mastectomy, is often used to remove the breasts and the tumors. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays directed at the spot of the cancer to kill cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy and radiation have uncomfortable side effects.

Doctors use additional treatment approaches including hormonal therapy. Hormonal therapy doesn’t allow the cancer cells to get the hormones they need to survive. Another approach is biological therapy, which works with the immune system, your body’s natural defense against disease. Biological therapy helps the immune system fight the cancer. It also helps control the side effects of other cancer treatments.

Breast cancer is the subject of a lot of research, and if you’re interested, you can participate in a clinical trial to test the safety and effectiveness of new drugs and treatments. To find a clinical trial near you, ask your doctor or go to

Now, you’ve got the facts on breast cancer. Put on something pink and share what you’ve learned!

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