Breast cancer awareness month is recognized every October, but it is more than just awareness about breast cancer, it is about being self-aware of your breast health.
Some of the risk factors for breast cancer, such as genetics and age, are out of our control. But there are steps you can take to maximize your breast health and minimize your chances of developing breast cancer.
Statistics show that 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are found by women who feel a lump, often during a regular activity like bathing or dressing. However, most breast changes aren’t cancer.
How to do a Self-Exam
Make it a habit to self-check your breast, preferably in front of a mirror without clothes, and look for changes in your breasts. In addition to a quick visual check, you should do a self-exam at the same time each month or at the same time within your regular menstrual cycle.
By checking your breasts regularly, you will notice if something looks or feels different or one area is firmer than during a previous exam. All breasts are different, so it is important to know what your normal is. If you do notice any of the following breast changes, be sure to call your provider:
Change in the size or shape of the breast
Dimpling or puckering of the skin
Itchy, scaly, sore rash on the nipple
Lump, hard knot, or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
Nipple changes or discharge that starts suddenly
New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away
Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening of the breast
Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer
In addition to regular self-exams, you should reduce your risk of developing breast cancer through screening and lifestyle choices.
If you do not have a personal or family history of breast cancer, you should begin annual screening mammograms at age 40, as recommended by the American Society of Breast Surgeons and American College of Radiology.
Women of higher risk should consider starting screening at an earlier age. If you’re at a higher risk, ask your provider about the screening tests and frequency that’s right for you.
Sometimes preventing a disease can be as simple as taking care of your body. A study by the National Institutes of Health showed that women who followed a healthy lifestyle lowered their breast cancer risk by 25%. Lifestyle choices that can help prevent chronic diseases as well as breast cancer, include:
Maintain a healthy weight
Exercise 30 minutes a day
Limit alcohol use
Do not smoke
Limit hormone replacement use
Eat a healthy diet, rich in green leafy vegetables, fruits and low in red meat
Breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer in women, but when caught early it is treatable. Know your risk and get to know your body. If you detect something suspicious in your monthly self-exam, contact your provider right away. Remember, lumps are not always cancerous, but it is important to have them checked to ensure you maintain your breast health.
Self-Awareness Key to Detecting Breast Cancer
By Mohammad Tahir, MD, PhD
Breast Health Center, UPMC
Mohammad Tahir, MD, PhD, is fellowship trained breast and oncoplastic surgeon at UPMC’s Breast Health Center in Williamsport. For more information on breast health services and lifesaving screenings offered at UPMC in the Susquehanna region, visit UPMCSusquehanna.org/breast.