Each October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month takes place to raise awareness for the signs of breast cancer to support and provide life-saving screenings for women in need. Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among American women; the need to detect breast cancer early can save a life. This would not be possible without setting aside time to really drive home educational facts about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. In fact, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc quoted “breast cancer death rates declined 40% from 1989 to 2016 among women. The progress is attributed to improvements in early detection”.
If you’re leaning on the fence about getting a mammogram, it is completely worth it. The Center for Disease Control said, “mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms”. Let’s take a moment to learn more about breast cancer.
What are the risk factors for breast cancer?
According to the CDC, they list the following risk factors that typically cannot be avoided:
- Getting older - the risk for breast cancer increases withal; most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50.
- Genetic mutations - Inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who have inherited these genetic changes are at high risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
- Reproductive history - early menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.
- Having dense breasts - dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Woman with dense breasts are most likely to get breast cancer.
- Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases - woman who have had breast cancer are most likely to get breast cancer a second time. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Family history of breast or ovarian cancer - A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a mother, sister, or daughter (first-degree relative) or multiple family members on either her mother’s of father’s side of the family who have had breast or ovarian cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises the woman’s risk.
- Previous treatment using radiation therapy - woman who had radiation therapy to the chest or breast (for instance, treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) before age 30 have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.
- Woman who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was given to some pregnant woman in the United States between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, have higher risk. Women who’s mothers took DES while pregnant with them are also at risk.
For every risk factor that you cannot avoid, there are some that you can change according to the CDC:
- Not being physically active - woman who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Being overweight or obese after menopause - older women who are overweight or obsess have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight.
- Taking hormones - some forms of hormone replacement therapy (those that include both estrogen and progesterone) taking during menopause can raise risk for breast cancer when taken for more than five years. Certain oral contraceptives (birth control pills) also have been found to raise breast cancer risk.
- Reproductive history - having the first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
- Drinking alcohol - studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with more alcohol.
What are the signs of breast cancer?
Most people consider a lump on the breast to be the most well-known sign of breast cancer, not every form of breast cancer will come with a lump. There are five other commonly found signs of breast cancer and they are breast swelling, discharge from the nipple, dimpling of the skin, a nipple that turns inward, or noticeable skin changes on the breast or nipple.
If the skin around the breast changes, swells or becomes red for a long time, this may be a sign of a developing tumor in that breast. Breasts are typically the same size and same location on the chest. When one breast begins to change shape or sags lower than the other, there could be a tumor weighing it down. If you are breastfeeding and there is non-breast milk coming from the nipple, there is an issue. If you are not breastfeeding and there is non-breast milk coming from the nipple, there is an issue too. A big red flag for a sign of breast cancer is when there is generalized pain felt in or on the breast.
I discovered a lump and my breast hurts, now what?
If you notice any changes to your chest and/or breast region, scheduling a mammogram through your primary care provider (PCP) or local imaging facility is the best first step to take. The mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of the breast to see what’s going on under the skin. Even the smallest of tumors (for example smaller than a hair strand) can be caught by a mammogram. The entire imaging process is relatively painless. Depending on how sensitive your breasts are, there may be a slight pressure feeling as the camera makes presses down on the breast to take the X-ray. To avoid most being totally uncomfortable, try to schedule your mammogram before or during your period. Also, wear comfortable clothing as your provider may ask you to remove your top and bra so the X-ray can take shots to scan for tumors. Remember to always disclose to any medical professional that if you are pregnant or there even is a possibility of being pregnant.
A good rule of thumb is once you find an imaging facility that makes you feel comfortable, continue going back there. It makes it easier for the facility and your provider to compare X-rays year to year, month to month or week to week.
How can Cross Valley Health & Medicine help you?
Cross Valley Health & Medicine is a primary care facility that has a doctor and family nurse practitioner on staff. Both are unable to perform a mammogram here at their office due to the need to use an X-ray machine, but they can refer you out to an imaging facility. Both practitioners have been practicing medicine for years now, so they have built up healthy relationships with most imaging facilities in the tri-state area.
Cross Valley Health & Medicine is a primary care practice located in Newburgh NY, allowing for both virtual and in-person appointments. The practice has two medical providers on staff, Doctor Paul Saladino who is dual board-certified in Addiction Medicine and Internal Medicine, and a Christian Plaza who is a family nurse practitioner. Both practitioners are eager to see new patients for the following programs: Addiction Medicine, Behavioral Health Management, HIV/AIDS Care Management, Internal Medicine, Medical Marijuana Certifications, Medication-Assisted Treatment, STD/STI Care Management, and Weight Loss Management. If you are interested in becoming a patient of Cross Valley, please click here to access our online paperwork portal. Visit us online at www.crossvalleyhealth.com or give our office a call at 845-561-7075.