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Published on October 12, 2010

Breast Cancer: Information that Could Save Your Life

October 12, 2010

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an opportunity to promote screening and early detection of breast cancer. Roughly 1 in 8 women in the United States will get breast cancer. Next to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common kind of cancer in women.

While breast cancer cannot be prevented, studies suggest that there are ways you can help reduce your risk of developing this disease. Symptoms of breast cancer may include:

  • A lump in the breast
  • A change in size, shape, or feel of the breast
  • Fluid (called “discharge”) from a nipple

Reducing Your Risk

Reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by taking these actions:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight. Make healthy choices in the foods you eat and the kinds of drinks you have each day.
  2. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol consumption is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.
  3. Exercise. Exercise 45 to 60 minutes, five or more days a week. Brisk walking has been shown to be as effective as more vigorous types of exercise. Previously inactive people should start out slowly, gradually increasing the length and intensity of their physical activity.
  4. Know your family history of breast cancer. If you have a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer, see your doctor to learn more about your risk of getting breast cancer and how you can lower your risk.
  5. Find out the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy. Some women use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat the symptoms of menopause. Ask your doctor about the risks and benefits of HRT and find out if hormone replacement therapy is right for you.

Early Detection

The best chance a woman has to fight breast cancer is to find it and treat it early. Cancer caught in its earliest stages offers the best chance for a cure. The American Cancer Society recommends:

  • Beginning in their 20s, women should be told that breast self-exams (BSEs) are an optional self-care routine.
  • Women 20 – 39 years of age should have a clinical breast exam performed by a health care professional about every 3 years. At age 40, these exams should be performed every year.
  • Women 40 years of age and older should have a screening mammogram every year.
  • Women known to be at increased risk of breast cancer should discuss screening guidelines with their health care provider.
  • Older women that are in reasonably good health should continue having annual mammograms.

If you have any of the following symptoms, see your doctor immediately:

  • new lumps;
  • puckering or dimpling of the skin; thickening or hardening under the skin;  
  • an inverted nipple, bleeding or discharge from the nipple, or nipple pain;
  • redness or any changes in breast color;
  • anything unusual in the skin or nipple.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society

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