Early detection may save your life
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers), and is the second leading cause of death in women.1 In 2015 it was estimated that 25,000 women would be diagnosed with the disease – that’s 68 Canadian women diagnosed every single day.2 In the US and the UK it’s estimated that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer every year.
These staggering statistics are the reason every woman should perform a monthly breast self-exam, explore screening options, and know the symptoms and signs to watch for.
Symptoms and signs
The National Breast Cancer Foundation has a thorough list of things to watch for during your monthly exam. These include:
- A change in how the breast or nipple feels including nipple tenderness, thickening of the skin in or near the breast or underarm area, change in skin texture, and lumps.
- A change in breast or nipple appearance including unexplained changes in size or shape, dimpling, unexplained swelling or shrinkage (especially if on one side only), recent asymmetry of the breasts, a nipple that is turned slightly inward or inverted, skin that becomes scaly, red or swollen or may have ridges or pitting like the skin of an orange.
- Any nipple discharge, especially if it is clear or bloody.
Performing a monthly self-exam allows you to regularly monitor any new changes in your breasts and get anything suspicious investigated right away. It’s important to note that not all lumps are cancerous (8 out of 10 are not), and the presence of these signs does not automatically mean you have breast cancer. But you should always speak to your doctor if you do notice any of these signs and symptoms – or anything else that’s unusual.3
All adult women should perform a breast self-exam at least once a month. Visit The National Breast Cancer Foundation for simple, step-by-step instructions.
You should also talk to your doctor about annual cancer screening using a mammogram, which allows breast cancer to be detected at a very early stage – often before any physical signs or symptoms develop.4 Your doctor will be able to tell you when and how often you should have a mammogram based on your age and risk factors.
There is currently no way to prevent cancer, but there are ways to lower your risk. According to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada5, factors that have been found to increase breast cancer risk include:
- Drinking alcohol. It is recommended that women drink less than one drink per day
- Being physically inactive. Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week may help maintain overall health.
- Smoking tobacco and breathing second-hand smoke. These increase a woman’s chance of developing several types of cancer, including breast cancer.
If you are a younger woman (under 40), Rethink Breast Cancer is a great resource. Their mission is to foster a new generation of young and influential breast cancer supporters and, most importantly, respond to the unique needs of young women going through breast cancer. There are tips for living with the disease, information on breast health, and ways to get more involved in the movement.
Women of any age can help spread the word and raise awareness during Breast Cancer Awareness month. Send this article to your friends and family members, encourage women over 40 to talk to their doctor about when to start getting mammograms, and make sure the women you love know that they can take a proactive step by performing monthly breast self-exams.
If you or someone you love has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, visit Beyond the Shock, a website with resources that can help you gain a better understand of the disease and connect with other women who are dealing with the same emotions, questions, decisions and experiences.
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