What Every Woman Should Know About Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the world, and in the United States, it’s the most common cancer among women. About one of every eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, and although cancer-related deaths have decreased over the past decade or so, they still remain high at about 44,000 deaths per year in the US.
Educating yourself about breast cancer is an important part of making sure you get the medical care you need to detect and treat breast cancer in its earliest and most treatable stage. The team at Medical Access offers this quick overview of some of the most important facts about breast cancer, so you can increase your knowledge and get the care you need to stay healthy.
#1: Recognize the signs
Most women know one of the key signs of breast cancer is a lump or mass in or near their breast. Other signs are not as well-known, and include:
- Nipple changes, including itching, discharge, or puckering
- One area of your breast feeling warmer than the rest
- Breast pain
- A lump or swelling in your armpit
- Change in the size or firmness of your breast
- Unusual rash or skin changes in your breast
If you have any of these signs, call the office right away to schedule an exam.
#2. Not all lumps are cancerous
If you do find a lump in your breast, don’t panic. Yes, you need to schedule an exam right away, but know that not all lumps are caused by cancer. Some can be caused by infections or noncancerous cysts. Hormonal changes can also cause benign lumps, as well. Bottom line: Make that appointment, but don’t assume your lump is necessarily cancer.
#3: Family medical history is important
Having a very close relative with breast cancer increases your own risk for developing breast cancer, as well. If that describes you, let your doctor know so you can have extra screenings if recommended. However, if you don’t have a family history of breast cancer, that does not mean you aren’t at risk. In fact, most women who develop breast cancer don’t have a family history of the disease.
#4: Early detection is the key to better outcomes
Many women with breast cancer have no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, which is why routine screening is so important. For women with an average risk of breast cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends mammograms:
- Every year from ages 45-54
- Every year or every other year at age 55 and up
Women between ages 40-44 may opt to have annual mammograms as well, and those with higher risk of breast cancer may need screenings more often.
#5: Know your risk factors
Like other cancers, breast cancer has risk factors that increase your risk for having cancer. Some risk factors — like your family history — are non-modifiable, which means they can’t be changed. Other non-modifiable risk factors include:
- Having dense breast tissue
- Being taller
- Being older
- Starting menstruation before age 12
- Entering menopause after age 55
- Having had chest radiation therapy
- Having some benign breast diseases
Other risk factors can be changed. Most of these have to do with choosing to lead a healthier life. These modifiable risk factors include:
- Being overweight
- Consuming too much alcohol
- Long-term use of hormonal birth control
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Having hormone therapy after menopause
You should discuss your modifiable risk factors with your doctor to identify ways to reduce those risks when possible.
With locations in Germantown, Rockville, and Beltsville, Maryland, and Alexandria, Woodbridge, and McLean, Virginia, Medical Access offers comprehensive preventive care services for women of all ages, including breast cancer screenings. If you’d like to learn more about the screenings we offer or if you’d like to schedule an exam or consultation, call the office, or book an appointment online.