By Marie McAden
It’s a sobering fact: the No. 1 risk factor for breast cancer is simply being female.
According to the National Cancer Institute, a woman born today in the United States has about a 1 in 8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer some time during her life.
“A lot of women think they don’t have to worry because they don’t have a family history of the disease,” said Beaufort Memorial Hospital Breast Care Coordinator Jackie Brown. “That’s a complete misconception. Last year, 76 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer had no family history.”
That’s just one of the myths about Breast Cancer. Another commonly held belief is that young women don’t get breast cancer. In fact, recent studies estimate the probability of a woman in her 30s being diagnosed with the disease is 1 in 233.
“The risk increases as women get older,” said Brown, an RN with more than 30 years experience and a Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN). “But breast cancer can occur at any age.”
For women in their 40s, it’s 1 in 69. By her 50s, a woman’s chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer jumps to 1 in 38. In their 60s, it’s 1 in 27. Over the past several decades, the estimated lifetime risk has gradually gone up. In the 1970s, it was just under 10 percent. Today it’s 12.4 percent.
But the news isn’t all bad. Breast cancer detected early can usually be treated successfully. To ensure the tumor is found early, the American Cancer Society and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommend women have annual mammograms starting at age 40. Clinical breast exams should be performed by a doctor about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and older.
“A woman who finds a lump in her breast is naturally frightened. Most women immediately think of breast cancer when in reality the majority of lumps are not cancerous,” said Brown. However, to make a definitive evaluation of the lump requires consulting a healthcare provider.
“We need to be familiar with our own bodies,” she said, pointing out that there are other signs and symptoms of breast cancer besides feeling a lump. “If something doesn’t seem right, go see your doctor right away.”
Signs or symptoms can include:
• Discharge from one breast
• Inversion of a normally everted nipple
• Dimpling – a pulling in of the breast skin
• Bulge – an area of raised tissues on one breast
• Itching, irritated or scaly nipple with/without discharge
• Rapidly increasing pain with redness or rash
• Rapid increase in size of one breast
• Changes in the shape of a breast
• Change in vein patterns on one breast
“Breast cancer evokes so much fear in women,” said Brown, who works one-on-one with patients facing breast cancer issues. “They see it as their No. 1 enemy. The real enemy is the late detection of breast cancer.”
Marie McAden is a freelance writer.