What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer

October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month  

A cancer diagnosis can be a scary thing, but early detection and treatment can help to save lives. Since the mid-1980s, October has been designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to increase awareness of the disease and to help people get the treatment they might need to save their lives. October is also a time for people to take action to help others who might be dealing with breast cancer.

What is Breast Cancer?

Cancer is a type of disease that causes cells in the body to grow and divide in an out-of-control manner1. New cells might form when there is no need for them and older cells might refuse to die. Cancer can occur almost anywhere in the body. When it develops in the breast tissue, it's known as breast cancer.     

Several types of breast cancer exist. Two of the most common types of breast cancer are invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma.    

Who Can Get Breast Cancer?   

Breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer in women. Around 245,000 women in the US get breast cancer each year3. Although breast cancer is more common in older women, over the age of 50, younger women can also develop it. Around 10% of cases occur in women under age 45.    

Breast cancer isn't just a women's disease. Men have breast tissue, as well. Although it's much less common, men can also develop breast cancer.   

What Are the Signs of Breast Cancer?   

Changes in the breasts can be signs of breast cancer. If you notice any changes in your breasts, it's a good idea to see a doctor to have them take a look. Some changes to keep an eye out for include:

● Pain in the breast or breasts  

● Size changes  

● Shape changes  

● A lump in the breast or underarm area  

● Discharge from the nipples  

● Swelling of the breast  

● Skin irritation on the breasts

It's also important to understand that some forms of breast cancer don't have any symptoms. Plus, not all lumps or bumps in the breasts equal breast cancer. In some cases, a lump can be due to a cyst or another condition. Some women also notice that their breasts change size, shape or texture throughout the month or during pregnancy. 

Screening for breast cancer can help to detect it early and improve a person's chance of beating the disease. The US Preventative Task Force currently recommends mammograms every other year for women between the ages of 50 and 744. If a woman is under age 50, but has a family history or other risk factors for breast cancer, she and her doctor might decide to begin screenings earlier, starting at age 40.

How Is Breast Cancer Treated?   

Multiple treatments are available for breast cancer. The type of treatment that will work best depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of cancer a person has and its stage. In some cases, an oncologist might recommend combining treatments to improve a patient's outcome.    

Common treatments include5:  

● Surgery  

● Chemotherapy  

● Radiation  

● Immuno- or biological therapy  

● Hormonal therapy    

The goal of surgery is to remove cancer cells from the body. Depending on the size of the cancer, the surgery might remove a portion of the breast or the entire breast. A patient undergo chemotherapy before surgery to shrink the tumor and reduce the amount of tissue that needs removal.    

During chemotherapy, a patient receives medicines that kill the cancer cells. Radiation therapy uses radioactive energy to kill the cells, hormonal therapy tries to keep the cells from growing and dividing by blocking specific hormones, and immunotherapy boosts the immune system so that it is better able to fight the cancer. Each type of therapy might be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells or to reduce the chance of the cancer returning.    

The treatment process can be complicated and usually involves numerous appointments, lots of paperwork, and communication between doctors and insurance companies. Cancer care navigators can help patients through the process. Working with a patient navigator can help someone get the best care possible and the support they need while going through treatment.  

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