Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know

About 264,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. It is one of the most common types of cancer in American women.

Here’s what you need to know to protect your breast health.

What is breast cancer?

Your body grows new cells all the time. Normally, these cells die when you no longer need them. Cancer is a group of abnormal cells that mutate and grow out of control when your body doesn’t need them. They usually form a lump or mass.

Breast cancer describes any cancer that starts in the breast. It can affect both women and men, although it is rare in men. Out of every 100 breast cancers diagnosed, about one case is found in a man.

Where does breast cancer usually start?

The breast is made up of lobules (mammary glands), ducts, fat, tissue, lymph nodes and blood vessels. Cancer can start anywhere in the breast cells, but is most likely to start in the lobules and ducts.

What causes breast cancer?

Experts don’t know exactly what causes breast cancer, but they have identified some risk factors that make you more likely to get it.

Some risk factors are things you can’t change, including:

  • Breast cancer is 100 times more common in women than in men.
  • Most women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer are over the age of 50.
  • Women with BRCA gene mutations are more susceptible to breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
  • Presence of dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue increases your chance of getting breast cancer and can make it harder to detect tumors on some mammograms.
  • Family history. Breast cancer can be hereditary, so you are more likely to get it if you have a close family member with breast cancer.

Does breast cancer hurt?

Breast cancer is usually not painful. If you’re experiencing breast pain or discomfort, it’s more likely to be your period.

If your chest pain is severe or lasts more than a few weeks, consult your doctor. Breast pain is rarely the main symptom of breast cancer, but it can still happen. Your provider will help you determine the cause of your chest pain and how to treat it.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

In the early stages, breast cancer may be too small to cause symptoms. This is what makes breast cancer screenings so important. Early detection of breast cancer means it is more treatable and less likely to spread to other parts of the body.

As breast cancer grows, it can cause changes in your breasts such as:

  • A lump
  • Swelling or thickening
  • A discharge from the nipples
  • Swallowed grain
  • Breast pain, tenderness or soreness
  • Redness or dimple
  • Flaky skin

If you notice any changes in your breasts, contact your doctor immediately.

Find a Sanford Health provider.

How can I prevent breast cancer?

There are steps you can take to prevent breast cancer:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid or limit alcoholic beverages
  • Don’t smoke
  • Breastfeed your children if possible
  • Weigh the risks of long-term use of postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptives with your primary care provider

Having children also helps reduce the risk of getting breast cancer, especially if you have children before the age of 30.

The best way to protect your breast health is through regular checkups. Sanford Health recommends getting a mammogram every year starting at age 40. These screenings are important for early detection of breast cancer, when it is most treatable.

Depending on your risk factors, you may need to be screened before age 40. Talk to your doctor to learn when you should start screening based on your personal risk.

Medical review by Michael Bouton, MD, thoracic surgeon at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, North Dakota; Andrea Caster, MD, a family medicine physician at the Edith Sanford Fargo Breast Center in Fargo, North Dakota; and Christina Tello-Scjorset, MD, a radiologist at the Sanford Clinic in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Posted in Cancer , Cancer Screenings , Women

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