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What We Want You to Know about Breast Cancer

October 16, 2019 • Natacha Mugeni

Breast cancer is the top cancer affecting women in both the developed and the developing world. Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the breast multiply uncontrollably to form a tumour. It can occur in both men and women, but it’s far less common in men (about 1% of cases). 

With the changes in lifestyles, the increase of urbanization and life expectancy, the incidence of breast cancer also increases. In most of the developing regions, the incidence rates are below 40 per 100,000. Some risk reduction might be achieved with prevention but this cannot eliminate the majority of breast cancers that develop in low- and middle-income countries where breast cancer is diagnosed in very late stages. Therefore, early detection in order to improve breast cancer outcome and survival remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control. 

Risk Factors

Be extra vigilant when doing your breast self-examination if the following factors are true in your life:

  • Advanced age
  • Being female 
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • A personal history of breast cancer
  • A personal history of breast conditions
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol and tobacco
  • Environmental carcinogens
  • Radiation exposure.
  • Having never been pregnant
  • Beginning menopause at an older age
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapy

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include:

  • A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
  • Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast
  • Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling
  • A newly inverted nipple
  • Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin
  • Redness or pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange.

Diagnosis

  • Breast exam. Your doctor will check both of your breasts and lymph nodes in your armpit, feeling for any lumps or other abnormalities.
  • Mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Mammograms are commonly used to screen for breast cancer. 
  • Breast ultrasound. Ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images of structures deep within the body. 
  • Removing a sample of breast cells for testing (biopsy)
  • Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI machine uses a magnet and radio waves to create pictures of the interior of your breast. 

Treatment options

  • Breast cancer surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Targeted therapy drugs
  • Immunotherapy
  • Supportive (palliative) care.

Prevention

Making changes in your daily life may help reduce your risk of breast cancer. Try to:

  • Ask your doctor about breast cancer screening
  • Become familiar with your breasts through breast self-exam for breast awareness. 
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all
  • Exercise most days of the week
  • Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Choose a healthy diet

Here is a video on how to self-administer your breast exam correctly.

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