10 Things Your Doctor Wants You To Know About Breast Cancer
In the spirit of breast cancer awareness month, here are 10 quick facts your doctor wants you to know about breast cancer.
1. How common is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in adult females.
Image adapted from Cancer Atlas
2. Can breast cancer kill?
It’s the second commonest cause of cancer mortality in adult females.
3. Can males get breast cancer too?
Breast cancer, although thought to be exclusive to females, can occur in male breasts. It’s rare, but it happens.
4. What could increase my chances of getting breast cancer?
Risk of getting breast cancer can be increased by:
- Advanced age (over 65s).
- Lifestyle factors including smoking, alcohol use, physical inactivity, obesity, low fibre and high-fat diet.
- Radiation exposure, e.g frequent exposure to x-rays.
- Increased exposure to the estrogen hormone or an increased number of menstrual cycles as seen with:
- Early menarche- first menstrual cycle before age 11.
- Late menopause- last menstrual cycle after age 55.
- Late age at first pregnancy- first live birth after age 30.
- Oral contraceptive pills- increases estrogen levels.
- Hormone replacement therapy- estrogen administration after menopause.
- Inheritance of mutations in the BRCA-1, BRCA-2 or P53 genes which contribute to the commencement of breast cancer.
- First degree relative(s) with breast cancer, especially if the relative is your mother.
- Previous history of breast cancer i.e if you’ve had breast cancer before, you are at a risk of getting breast cancer again.
Image adapted from Fix Health Problems
5. What’s the relationship between breastfeeding and breast cancer?
Breastfeeding is protective.
6. Can I get breast cancer when I’m young?
Yes, you can. About 50% of breast cancer cases occur in women aged 65 or older. The rest have been documented in younger people and males.
7. What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
The most common symptoms of breast cancer include:
- No symptoms at all
- Change in the shape or size of breasts
- Breast lump
- Nipple discharge, especially bloody discharge from one breast
- Nipple inversion
- Changes in the skin around the breast such as ulceration, dimpling, redness, and/or swelling
- Pain in breasts
Image adapted from New Health Guide
8. How can I prevent breast cancer?
Although some causative factors of breast cancer such as genetics are unavoidable, you can do your part to lower your risk by-
- getting mammograms done every 1-2 years from the age of 45
- getting physically active
- curbing smoking and alcohol intake
- having your first live birth before by age 30 (if possible)
- doing breast self-exams to spot lumps early
Image adapted from Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation
9. I have bigger breasts, are my chances of getting breast cancer higher?
Bigger breasts don’t mean a higher risk of breast cancer. The size of the breasts depends mostly on the amount of fat in breasts and has no relationship with breast cancer. However, denser (non-fat tissue) breasts have been linked to increased risk of breast cancer. Apart from fat, the female breasts are also composed of ducts and lobules of which all females have relatively equal amounts of. It’s in the cells that line the ducts and lobules that breast cancer begins. Interestingly enough, a study in 2008 found that “big breasted women (those patients with mastectomy weight greater than 800g) had a significantly greater tumour size than those with smaller breasts but there was no significant difference in grade or lymph node positivity between the two groups”.
10. How do I perform a breast self-exam?
Image adapted from Summit Medical Group
Dr. Wendy Evans-Uhegbu is a graduate of The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, with experience in Connected Health, Medical Technology, Clinical Research, Medical Education, and Web Design. She is a member of the Medics Abroad team with the role of Chief Communications Officer. She also runs a Medical Communications and Publishing business, and is the author of the newly published children’s book “The Things Around Me”.