Understanding Breast Cancer in Women

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and The Marshes of Skidaway Island, one of the leading retirement communities in Savannah, wants to share some important information about this topic.

What Exactly is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is no different than most other types of cancer. It develops when a malignant tumor starts to form, in this case, in the cells of the breast. As the tumor grows, it invades the surrounding tissues. In some cases, the cancer spreads to other parts of the body.

Breast Cancer Statistics

According to the American Cancer Society's estimates for 2014, 40,000 women will die from breast cancer; more than 62,500 new cases of non-invasive carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is the earliest form of breast cancer), and more than 232,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.

Surprisingly, breast cancer is not the leading cancer-related cause of death in women. It is second to lung cancer. A female has a 1 in 36 (3%) chance of dying from breast cancer and thanks to self-awareness, self-breast examinations, and regular mammograms, death rates attributed to this form of cancer have dropped significantly since 1989.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Breast cancer risk factors include certain things you can change and others you can't. For instance, the following are lifestyle-related factors that can increase a woman's chance of developing breast cancer:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Taking oral contraceptives
  • Having children
  • Taking hormone therapy after menopause
  • Estrogen therapy
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise

Risk factors that cannot be changed include:

  • Age
  • Genetics (between 5% and 10% of cases are thought to be hereditary)
  • Gene mutations
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Breast tissue density
  • Certain benign breast conditions (e.g., fibrosis, hyperplasia, adenosis, fat necrosis, etc.)
  • Menstrual periods
  • Prior chest radiation
  • Exposure to Diethylstilbestrol

Breast Cancer and Early Detection

The earlier breast cancer is detected and treated, the greater the odds are of overcoming it. If the disease can be caught before any symptoms are present, then the odds of beating it are even better. For this reason, the American Cancer Society recommends all women over the age of 40 to have a mammogram performed every year and they should continue to be conducted as long as the woman is in general good health, regardless of her age.

Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam performed by a health professional every three years until they reach the age of 40. Once they reach 40, they should have the exam performed annually. Women should start performing breast self-exams in their early 20s and report any changes to their doctor immediately.

Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is most commonly identified by a lump or mass in the breast tissue. Most tumors are hard and painless, but that is not always the case with every woman. Some women discover lumps that are soft and some even cause pain. As a result, the discovery of any lump needs to be addressed as if it is cancer until a professional examination can rule it out. Other signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Pain in the breast or nipple
  • Nipple retraction
  • Discharge from the nipple (liquid other than breast milk)
  • Redness of the nipple or breast skin
  • Thickening of the breast skin
  • Skin irritation or "dimpling"
  • Swelling of the breast

Can Breast Cancer Be Prevented?

While certain risk factors cannot be changed, some can, and making the following changes can help prevent the development of breast cancer in some women:

  • Stop smoking (or don't start)
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise at least 150 minutes a week (moderate aerobic exercise)
  • Manage your weight
  • Breast feed for as long as possible
  • Avoid exposure to radiation
  • Limit the dose and duration of hormone therapy
  • Perform breast self-exams

Visit The Marshes of Skidaway Island's Retirement Communities in Savannah GA

The Marshes of Skidaway Island takes the health and wellness of our members seriously. We offer a range of wellness programs, educational seminars, and health services designed to help our members enjoy their golden years in the best health possible. From our state-of-the-art exercise facilities and group exercise programs to our on-site medical services and more, our members get the exercise and healthcare treatment they need to enjoy optimum health.

To learn more about The Marshes of Skidaway Island or to schedule a visit to our luxurious resort-like retirement communities in Savannah, please call us today at 800-889-6238.