Saving Women’s Lives: October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month throughout the world. According to the 2010 Report to the Nation on Cancer, the rates of new breast cancer cases and deaths from breast cancer are declining in the United States. Since 1975, five-year survival rates have increased significantly for both African American and white women. Experts believe that early detection is playing an important role in these improving results.

Here are the most important things you need to know about breast cancer.

What is breast cancer? 

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is "a malignant tumor that starts in the cells of the breast." A malignant tumor is a group of cancer cells that can invade surrounding tissues or spread to other parts of the body. Breast cancer is the most frequent type of cancer among women and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women.

In 2011, an estimated 287,000 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed among women. About 39,000 women died from the disease. Only lung cancer accounts for more cancer deaths in women.

Among women, who gets breast cancer?

Breast cancer diagnoses and death rates generally increase with age. Ninety-five percent of new cases and 97% of breast cancer deaths occurred in women 40 years of age and older.

Women ages 75 to 79 have the highest incidence rate, 421.3 cases per 100,000.

Non-Hispanic white women experience the highest rates of breast cancer. African American women experience a higher rate before age 40. They also are more likely to die from breast cancer at every age.

Diagnoses and death rates are lower for other racial and ethnic groups.

Breast cancer is not the most common cause of death for women. Heart disease is the number one cause of death among women age 40 and older, followed by stroke, lung cancer, and lung diseases. Breast cancer is the fifth leading cause of death among women.

Do men get breast cancer?

Yes, but it’s rare. Only 1 in 100 cases of breast cancer is found in men.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

At first, a breast cancer may be too small to feel. At this stage, a woman is not likely to experience any symptoms. As the cancer grows, this can change. Women may experience:

  • A lump in the breast or the armpit
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
  • Pain in the nipple or any area of the breast
  • Blood or discharge from the nipple (other than breast milk)
  • A change in the size or the shape of the breast

If I have a lump, does it mean I have breast cancer?

No, but it does mean you should have it checked out immediately. Many conditions can cause lumps in the breast, including cancer. Most breast lumps are benign and caused by other medical conditions.

Is there a way to lower the risk of breast cancer?

Yes, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that you:

  • Control your weight and exercise.
  • Know your family history of breast cancer. If you have a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer, ask your doctor about your risk and how you can lower it.
  • Find out the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.

What factors increase the risk for breast cancer?

There are several known risk factors that increase the chances that you will get breast cancer. Some risk you can change; some cannot be changed.

Risk factors that can’t be changed include:

  • Age – your risk increases as you get older
  • Family history – if your mother, sister, or daughter has had breast cancer, you are at increased risk
  • Early onset of menstruation (before 12)
  • Late onset of menopause (after 55)
  • Personal history of ovarian or colon cancer

Risk factors that you might be able to change:

  • Obesity after menopause
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Lack of exercise
  • Long-term use of combined estrogen and progestin hormonal therapy
  • Never breastfed a baby
  • Never gave birth
  • Recent oral contraceptive use

What is the best way to detect breast cancer?

The best way to find breast cancer early is with a mammogram. The American Cancer Society now recommends that all women 40 and older get a mammogram every year. Also, women should conduct self-examinations of their breast each month. This can enable you to detect changes in your breast long before a mammogram detects it.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that helps doctors detect early signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms can lower your risk of dying from breast cancer.

Why get a mammogram?

Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors have to find breast cancer early. Mammograms can detect a small cancer up to three years before it can be felt by a woman, her partner, or her doctor. With early detection, many women live long and healthy lives.

How do I get a mammogram?

Contact Lucila Avila at (213) 747-5542 ext. 3345 to schedule an appointment.

Remember, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Be aware. Take action. Share this information with all the women in your life. If you’re a woman, 40 or older, get a mammogram. The life you save may be your own.