Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women after skin cancer and in the United States, it’s one of the leading causes of death for women. Although there are many different types of breast cancer, all start with abnormal cells that grow uncontrollably. The most common form of breast cancer is invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), which begins in the milk ducts or lobules, but there are several kinds. While breast cancer mainly occurs in women, men can also get breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society’s estimates for breast cancer in the United States for 2022 are:
- About 287,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
- About 51,400 new cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) will be diagnosed.
- About 43,250 women will die from breast cancer.
Lowering Your Risk of Breast Cancer
It’s very important to know that some women will get breast cancer without any other risk factors and that most women have risk factors but will never get breast cancer. However, if you do have risk factors, there are ways to lower your risk.
Alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of breast and other cancers. This risk increases with the amount of alcohol one may consume. Being overweight or obese can also increase breast cancer risk. Physical activity can decrease your breast cancer risk. The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or at least 75 minutes of intense exercise every week.
For those with an increased risk of breast cancer, talk with your doctor about the following options:
- Close observation to look for early signs
- Preventative (prophylactic) surgery
- Medicines that lower breast cancer risk
- Genetic counseling & testing
There are also breast cancer risk factors you cannot change, but they are important to be aware of. These risk factors include:
- Being born female
- Being age 55 or older
- Inheriting certain genes
- Having a family history of breast cancer
- Having a personal history of breast cancer
- Race and ethnicity
- Having dense breast tissue
- Starting menstrual periods early
- Going through menopause later
White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than Black, Hispanic, and/or Asian women. However, Black women are more likely to develop more aggressive, more advanced-stage breast cancer that is diagnosed at younger ages. Many of these differences might be due to less access to high-quality care, the various lifestyle patterns (eating habits and environments, for example) in different ethnic populations, and lack of racial disparity training in some medical facilities.
While you cannot change your ethnicity, you can seek better quality healthcare and access. Contact your local American Cancer Society or speak to your local hospital/healthcare facilities.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
It’s essential to know how your breasts normally look and feel. Regular screening and tests are important, but because mammograms cannot detect every cancer, you must be aware of any changes to your breasts. While the most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass, there are other possible symptoms including:
- Skin dimpling
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple discharge
- Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collarbone
- Recent or new asymmetry
- Nipple retraction
Early Detection & Self Examinations
John Hopkins Medical Center states that “40% of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”
Adult women are encouraged to perform breast self-examinations once per month. Read more about how a self-exam should be performed here.
In addition, it’s important to stay on top of scheduling mammograms. Talk with your doctor and discuss how often a clinical breast exam and mammogram are recommended.
Breast Cancer Genetics
All cancer is genetic, but not all is hereditary. About 5-10% of breast cancers are thought to have a hereditary component, caused by variants on genes passed from parent to child. Having these variants does not mean someone is going to get cancer, but it does predispose someone or increase their risk significantly. The most well-known genes are BRCA1 and BRCA2, but there are many others that might affect your risk, including: PTEN, TP53, CDH1, STK11, CHEK2, and PALB2, among others.
If you have a family or personal history of breast cancer (or other types of cancer), consider speaking to a genetic counselor to discuss whether you qualify for genetic screening and which screenings are best for you. Even if you think you’ve been screened for genetic predisposition by your oncologist, seeing a genetics specialist is always recommended. Knowing your risk can have an impact on when and how often you screen with mammograms, MRIs, and other modes of detection.
The genetic counselors at Lescale MFM specialize in prenatal genetics. However, if you are pregnant and have a significant history of cancer, please call our office to make an appointment with one of our GCs!
Early Detection is Key
The key takeaway for women is that early detection is critical to survival, and it’s something that can be achieved with regular screenings. Furthermore, education on breast cancer should help reduce the stigma of getting screened by increasing knowledge about symptoms and treatments available.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here are just of few of many organizations that are worthy of your support:
BCRF – “Our mission is to prevent and cure breast cancer by advancing the world’s most promising research.”
Breast Cancer Alliance – “The mission of the BCA is to improve survival rates and quality of life for those impacted by breast cancer through better prevention, early detection, treatment and cure. To promote these goals, we invest in innovative research, breast surgery fellowships, education, dignified regional support and screening for the underserved.”
The Breasties – “ The Breasties is the first all-inclusive nonprofit organization that creates community for survivors, previvors, thrivers, and carevivors, impacted by breast and gynecologic cancers. We’re on a mission to empower through connection, free events, and trusted resources, and to fund research for metastatic breast cancer.”
Gilda’s Club Westchester – “The mission of Gilda’s Club Westchester is to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community.”
Miles of Hope – “Aside from an emphasis on early detection (yearly mammogram) and prevention (exercise, healthy balanced diet, and healthy life style), Miles of Hope strives to eliminate some of the financial pressure exacerbated by a cancer diagnosis. In our 18 year history, we have donated over $2,800,000 to people of the Hudson Valley affected by breast cancer. The lion’s share of our donations go to monetary support for individuals in treatment for breast cancer for a financial emergency not covered by insurance through the Medical Gap Care program.”
Sharsheret – “Sharsheret, a national non-profit organization, improves the lives of Jewish women and families living with or at increased genetic risk for breast or ovarian cancer through personalized support and saves lives through educational outreach. While our expertise is in young women and Jewish families as related to breast cancer and ovarian cancer, Sharsheret programs serve all women and men.”
Lescale Maternal-Fetal Medicine is a Maternal-Fetal Medical office with four locations in New York. For more information about Lescale Maternal-Fetal Medicine, visit our website.
American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2022. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society; 2022.
American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2019-2020. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society; 2020.
American Cancer Society
National Breast Cancer Foundation