It’s October, and you may have heard that it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here are some fast facts for 2019:
- Breast cancer will make up about 15 percent of new cancer cases
- It’s estimated that there will be more than 271,000 new breast cancer diagnoses by the end of the year
- Breast cancer will cause about 7 percent of cancer deaths, or more than 42,000
- More than 9 out of 10 people with breast cancer survive for at least five years
Thinking about this during Breast Cancer Awareness Month isn’t enough. Know your risk and get screened regularly.
Know Your Risk of Breast Cancer
The cause of breast cancer is not fully understood. It’s likely that there are multiple causes. We do know that there are risk factors for getting breast cancer. Some of these are:
- Family history of breast cancer
- Having had breast cancer in the past
- Being female
- Radiation exposure
- Period began at an early age, beginning before 12
- Late menopause, starting after 55
- Alcohol consumption
It’s important to note that some people who get breast cancer have no risk factors other than being a woman. Men also get breast cancer, but at a far lower rate than women.
Breast Cancer Screening
The most important thing you can do for your breast health is regular screening. Speak to your healthcare provider about what exams you might need and how often you might need them.
What to Expect from Screening
During a breast cancer screening, a healthcare provider will take your medical history and perform a physical exam. Medical history is very important because it gives clues to how much risk for breast cancer you may have. Your provider will want to know:
- If a family member had breast cancer
- If you’ve ever had a genetic test done that shows you have a risk (it has to do with the BRCA gene)
- If you’ve ever given birth
- If you’ve ever breastfed children
- How much alcohol you drink on a regular basis
During the clinical breast exam a healthcare provider will look at and feel your breasts to see if there’s anything out of the ordinary, such as a lump in your breast tissue or armpit. They will check the skin of your breast to see if there’s any pitting, dimpling or rashes. They’ll also look for any liquid leaking from the nipples if you aren’t breastfeeding.
A lump may or may not be cancer; it could be a cyst, infection or other noncancerous growth. If your provider determines that it’s necessary, you might be referred for additional tests, like a mammogram. You may be eligible for programs that help pay for testing and treatment, if you need them.
If you have any questions about the process, or if you’re nervous or worried about anything, you can always talk to the staff members at your local health center.
Lowering Your Risk
There are some cancer risks you can’t control, like your age, family history or being a woman. But some risk factors you can—and should—control. Here are some tips:
- Keep a healthy weight
- Don’t smoke, or quit smoking
- Get regular exercise
- Limit your alcohol, or even stop drinking completely
- Breastfeed your child if you are able
- If you’re going through menopause and are on hormone replacement therapy, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you’re at increased risk of breast cancer
- If you know you have a BRCA gene mutation, talk to your provider about what else you can do to lower your risk of breast cancer
Now that you know how important breast cancer screening can be, it’s time to take the next step. Find the nearest NJFPL-supported health center and make an appointment to get screened.