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Risks & Symptoms
- Early Detection
- Who Is At Greatest Risk?
- What Are The Symptoms Of Breast Cancer?
A woman should take a proactive role in the detection of breast cancer. Early detection increases treatment options and the likelihood of survival. Women should learn to do monthly breast self-examinations, and they should talk to their doctors about the appropriate scheduling of mammograms and clinical breast exams.
Clinical breast exams are normally a part of a woman’s regular medical checkup. The doctor or nurse palpates, examines by touch, the surface of the patient’s breasts, searching for possible lumps or other changes. A clinical exam is no substitute for a mammogram. Mammograms can show breast tumors even before they can be felt or seen.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends the following for women who are age 40 and over and have no symptoms of breast cancer: a monthly breast self-exam, yearly clinical breast exam, and yearly mammogram. For women 20 to 40, the ACS recommends a monthly breast self-exam and a clinical breast exam every three years.
To find out about breast cancer screenings in the Baltimore, MD area or to receive instruction on breast self-exams, call the toll-free Cancer HelpLine, 1-877-715-HOPE (4673).
Who Is At Greatest Risk For Breast Cancer?
Gender plays the greatest role in determining who is at risk for breast cancer. Women are at greater risk for developing breast cancer than men, although about 1,400 men are diagnosed with this disease each year.
Aging increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, 77% of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over age 50; only 0.3% are age 20 to 29.
Women at highest risk of developing breast cancer are those who have already had cancer in one breast. Even when there is no evidence of cancer anywhere in their bodies, they are at risk for developing cancer in the other breast.
Heredity is another risk factor. Women with a mother or sister diagnosed with breast cancer have increased risk. The presence of the disease in a maternal grandmother is also a risk factor, but a lesser one.
Recent studies indicate that most hereditary cases of breast cancer result from mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Promising new research regarding these genes is underway.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 10% of breast cancer cases are hereditary. Genetic risk assessment and counseling can provide valuable information to many women concerned about inherited breast disease. For a referral to a genetic counselor in the Baltimore, MD area call the toll-free Franklin Square Cancer HelpLine 1-877-715-HOPE (4673).
Other risk factors for breast cancer have to do with female hormones: early menarche, no pregnancies, late menopause, and estrogen replacement therapy. Consumption of more than one alcoholic drink a day is linked to increased risk. Environmental risks and other factors are also under study.
What Are The Symptoms Of Breast Cancer?
A breast abnormality can be detected on a mammogram even before its physical symptoms can be observed by the woman or her doctor. For women age 40 and over, studies show that yearly mammograms save lives.
Physical symptoms become apparent only as breast cancer grows. Symptoms can include
- discharge from the nipple
- color change of breast, areola, or nipple
- dimpling, puckering, or scaliness of the breast, areola, or nipple
- increase in size or number of veins on one side of the chest
- change in the shape or size of the breast
- lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
A cancerous lump in your breast can feel like a dried pea. Usually, there is only one such lump. Tissues around the pea-like lump will move with it. Or, in the case of a thickening of breast tissue, the thickened tissue will not move freely.
Ordinarily, pain is not a symptom of early breast cancer.
A small percentage of breast cancers do not show up on mammograms, do not appear as a lump, and can occur concurrently in both breasts.