October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. Each year in the United States, more than 240,000 women get breast cancer. We can use this opportunity to spread the word about steps women can take to detect breast cancer early. Breast Cancer Awareness is so important because a mammogram – the screening test for breast cancer – can find cancer early, there is a 95% success rate for treatment. Treatment is also much, much easier. Breast treatment is better today than in previous decades and mortality has been cut almost in half because of earlier diagnosis from effective screening and better treatment.
There are different symptoms of breast cancer, and some people have no symptoms at all. Symptoms can include:
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast.
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk (including blood).
- A new lump in the breast or underarm.
If these symptoms are noticed immediately, get in touch with the doctor. Talk with a doctor about which screening tests are right for you if you are at higher risk. Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk. Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at age 20, and every year starting at age 40. Regular screening tests (along with follow-up tests if diagnosed) reduce a chance of dying from breast cancer.
The older a woman is, the more likely she is to get breast cancer. Rates of breast cancer are low in women under 40. Fewer than 5 % of women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. are younger than 40. Rates begin to increase after age 40 and are highest in women over age 70.
Breast cancer forms through a mutated cell in your body, a result of various possible factors, such as radiation, genetics, or carcinogens. Cancer, to put it plainly, is a label for “failure to keep consistent DNA”. Our DNA and protein structures replicate at an alarming rate. Faster than most of us would imagine. When replication occurs, there is a very-very-very small chance that the replication will have an error. Today, at the cutting edge of cancer research, research is dealing with the billions of permutations that might occur. Each one requires a different approach, therapy, or method of management. Every breast cancer is different. Each tumor is different, and it will have a different process and speed. Nobody can tell you how many days, weeks, or months you can go without treatment before it reaches the criteria for the next stage. It’s the metastasis of cancer cells that actually causes death. In simple words, metastasis involves the spread of cancer cells from the primary tumor to the surrounding tissues and to distant organs. 90% of cancer deaths are due to metastasis. After a breast cancer diagnosis, everything can *feel* urgent. The truth is, it’s important that you take a step back to make a healthy decision. There is no single breast cancer treatment that works for every patient, but there is a range of treatments that can be effective. Breast cancer surgery is intended to remove all of the malignant cells from your body. Surgery is most commonly used before cancer has spread from the breasts to other parts of the body. When cancer has spread, surgery is more complex, and it’s much harder to be sure that all cancer has been completely removed.
Some women just have more aggressive cancers or cancers that are not visualized well on a mammogram. For them, cancers are found larger and also within the lymph nodes under that arm. They are appropriately treated with more surgery (mastectomy instead of lumpectomy) and with added radiation therapy and when indicated also chemotherapy, 5-year cancer free survival rates still should be in the high 80 %. A woman diagnosed today has a much better chance of not dying and most will probably be cured with correct treatment. Don’t blow your best chance. The first step is to follow through on recommended treatment. Cancer at an early stage does not kill you. See a qualified specialist and don’t hesitate to get a 2nd and a 3rd opinion. Please fight and be strong. Cancer can be cured.