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Breast Cancer: Know Your Risk Factors, The Signs And Symptoms And What To Do About It
All women, essentially, are at some degree of risk for developing breast cancer—considering that breast cancer is the most common cancer among North American women and that one in seven women either has it or will get it in their lifetime.
But some women have a higher risk of contracting breast cancer than others, and that’s why it’s important for all women to assess their individual risks.
There is no single cause of breast cancer, but some factors seem to increase the risk of developing it.
The risk is increased the older you are, if you had your first child after the age of 30 (or no children at all) and if you have a family history of breast cancer, especially a mother, sister or daughter. Other minor, suggested risk factors—some of which have not been fully documented or studied—include previous breast disorders, early first menstruation, dense breast tissue, use of combination birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy (with both estrogen and progestin), a diet high in fat and alcohol and not breastfeeding or exercising.
If you’re a woman who has assessed a higher personal risk of developing breast cancer, you need to know what to watch for; the first signs and symptoms of the disease.
The first sign of breast cancer is normally a lump, a spot or other abnormality on the breast, usually felt by you first or seen on a mammogram (an x-ray of the breast) before you can even feel it. The lump is also constantly present, may feel hard, tender and unusual and like it’s attached to your skin.
Additional signs and symptoms of early breast cancer include other lumps, spots or abnormalities of the breast or nipple, such as a lump in the armpit, an inverted nipple, nipple discharge or eczema-type symptoms on the nipple, and irregular changes in the size, shape and skin of the breast.
Early detection is key. One way to help out with early detection is to learn how to do a breast self-examination—and to do them regularly. Breast self-exams basically allow you to “get to know” your particular breasts and how they look and feel normally, so you are better prepared to detect any unusual changes.
Mammograms and clinical breast examinations, which are done by doctors, are usually considered more reliable than self-exams. Mammograms aren’t recommended until women are a bit older (into their 40s and 50s, although slightly younger if a woman’s personal risk factor is higher), but clinical breast exams can, and should, be done sooner and more regularly.
At the first sign of what may appear to be breast cancer, and even if it’s not, it’s important for women to talk to their doctor right away. The sooner breast cancer is detected, the sooner it can be treated, and the greater chance of survival.
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