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BE BREAST AWARE - Take a crash course in breast cancer right here!

iMEDHealth

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer (excluding skin cancer) among American women. According to a cancer journal of ‘Breast Cancer Statistics’, approximately 252,710 new cases were expected to be diagnosed in 2017. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women in the U.S. and the median age at diagnosis of breast cancer for most women is 68 years. This median age seems to be younger for black women as compared to white women.

The importance of breast cancer awareness and screening cannot be emphasized enough. Health organizations are more focused on fostering awareness campaigns, workshops and mobile screening camps. The overall rates of breast cancer have declined by 39% between 1989 and 2015. This can be attributed to improvements in treatment, periodic screening and early detection and diagnosis by mammography, but is this enough?

Awareness is only the first step towards battling this disease. It has been a social taboo for ages, inflicting women with both physical and mental agony. The information provided on this platform will hopefully increase your understanding of breast cancer. Pass on the word to your neighbors, friends and family. Whether you know someone with breast cancer or are going through it yourself, you might help save a life.

What is screening?

Screening refers to the detection of breast cancer before symptoms occur. Just because your doctor has advised a screening test does not mean you necessarily have breast cancer. In fact, it is a precautionary measure, which helps in early recognition of disease. If abnormal cells or tissue are discovered during screening, it has the potential to be eradicated completely with treatment. By the time symptoms occur, the disease has often spread and invaded other parts of the body. In this condition, cancer becomes aggressive and difficult to treat.

Different types of screening tests:

History and physical examination: A proper and detailed patient history is essential to any evaluation. The information that you provide about your present health condition, family history and past medical history will help the doctor navigate the next step of management.

A physical exam checks you for general and specific signs of ill health. A quick head to toe overview is done first, then the breasts will be examined for any signs of breast cancer such as lumps, thickening, skin discoloration, tenderness and asymmetry. It is a careful manual examination of the breast, done by the doctor in the presence of a female staff member or attendant. Experts suggest that you should have a breast examination done by a health professional every year.

Even though women often discover lumps or abnormalities by breast self-examination, sometimes certain signs can be missed. What may seem ‘normal’ to you will be picked up much faster by an experienced doctor.

Laboratory investigations: Routine tests such as, blood tests and urine samples may indicate abnormalities, which could point in the direction of a cancer diagnosis.

Mammography: A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. It detects abnormal breast tissue. There are two types of mammography i.e., films screen and digital. Both methods are effective for screening. Diagnostic mammography, on the other hand, focuses on specific areas of concern resulting from a previous suspicious screening or presence of lump. Mammography is not painful, but may be an uncomfortable experience.

Breast MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging is a more detailed imaging technique used for women, who have a higher risk of developing breast cancer based on family history and other risk factors. It is also used for a further detailed evaluation of a suspicious area, found on mammogram and for monitoring disease recurrence after treatment.

Which signs and symptoms to look out for:

The most common and initial sign of breast cancer is a breast lump. Most of the time it is a coincidental discovery. A lump isn’t always well-defined. Sometimes it appears as an area of thickening or hard mass. Pain is not a usual feature of a cancerous lump or swelling, but it is better to get it evaluated anyway. This is where, the importance of self-examination comes in, because a lump is not always seen and might be felt instead.

When should you see your doctor?

Please visit your health care provider as soon as possible, if you note the following:

Change in size or shape of breasts. One might become lower or larger than the other.

Change in texture of skin. Look for dimpling of skin.

Change in skin color. The skin may become orangey or red and warm (in case of inflammation)

Nipple discharge. Any unusual discharge may be alarming.

According to cancer research studies, 90% of lumps are benign i.e. they are not cancerous. However, this does not mean you should exempt yourself from getting assessed. Prevention is better than cure.

What are the risk factors of breast cancer?

If you have one or more of the following risk factors, that does not necessarily mean you will contract the disease, but may increase the possibility of getting it. On the other hand, women without risk factors should not free themselves of the responsibility of getting checked.

  • Increasing age
  • Inherited genetic mutations responsible for breast cancer (BRCA-1, BRCA-2)
  • Early menarche (before 12 years of age)
  • Late menopause (after 55 years of age)
  • Obesity
  • Hormone therapy
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Family history
  • Previous treatment with radiation for another illness
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

If you have any of the risk factors mentioned above, it will probably raise concerns. Please do not hesitate to seek help from a healthcare professional. If you feel uncomfortable having a face to face conversation with your doctor about it, visit mylivedoctors.com and contact an online specialist. Here, you can communicate with them over the phone, via texts or email. This might give you the confidence you need to get evaluated.

Raise questions and discuss your fears openly. Be breast aware and support the cause by purchasing breast cancer awareness merchandise like breast cancer bracelets, t-shirts, pink ribbons and badges. Participate in breast cancer walks, and other charity events. Let’s fight this together!

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