Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Everything you need to know about breast cancer!

Women's Best Health Team

Reading time: 6min

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this year we would like to share some important information about breast cancer. What are the risks and symptoms, and is there a chance to reduce your risk? This article will give you answers to many questions and hopefully encourage you to check your breasts.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women and the most common form of cancer overall. Breast cancer is an abnormal and rapid division of breast cells. They continue to gather and begin to form masses or lumps. Cancer cells can spread from the breast to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body by metastasis.

Although breast cancer is more common in women, men may also be affected in rare cases.

Breast cancer symptoms

In some cases, the first signs of breast cancer symptoms may present as a lump in the breast or armpit however, this is not always the case. Symptoms can also include – thickened tissue or swelling in the breast or chest, chest, or underarm pain that remains unchanged during the menstrual cycle. The appearance of the nipples can also be a good indicator, e.g. nipple discharge, flaking/peeling skin, orange discoloration, or a sunken, inverted or deformed nipple. Other symptoms may present as changes in the skin of the breast such as dimpling, irritation, redness and rashes, and dramatic changes in size and shape. 

It’s important to remember that all breasts have varied tissue compositions including fat, glandular and connective fibrous tissue. Many lumps in breasts are fibrocystic and are in fact cysts that are non-cancerous fluid-filled sacs. Breast tenderness also fluctuates with your menstrual cycle, so getting to know your girls is key in understanding your normal breast changes throughout the month.

Breast cancer early detection

Here are some key tips for proactive breast health so you can connect with your body, get to know your normal, and create habits that can help you identify any changes that may be of concern:

Breast self-examination:

Checking your breasts regularly is super important to get to know what is your normal. No two boobs are the same, but getting to know what yours feel like will help you recognize any potential changes that may need a follow-up with your healthcare provider. Regular self-examination of your breasts is key in detecting any not-so-normal lumps or bumps and has shown helpful in detecting breast cancer at an early stage when there is a greater likelihood that it can be successfully treated.

Find out how to perform a breast self-exam.

If there are unusual lumps, changes, or other signs in your chest area, arrange an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

Breast screening is key:

Discuss with your doctor when you should conduct breast cancer screening exams and tests, such as clinical breast exams and mammograms.

Tips to reduce your risk:

  • Moderate your alcohol consumption and avoid smoking.
  • Work out as often as you can. It is best to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Engage in physical activity as often as you can. Activities such as brisk walks and gardening are great ways to move about.
  • Consider your postmenopausal hormone therapy, as it may raise the chances of breast cancer. Speak with your healthcare provider to discuss your options.
  • Be sure to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Add more non-starchy veggies to your diet, cut down on processed meats and foods, and consider getting a healthy dose of vitamin D. Ask your doctor about ways to create a healthy lifestyle.
  • If you belong to a higher-risk group, for example through your family history or factors like precancerous breast cancer, you could explore preventative medicine to potentially reduce your risks. These options can be discussed with your healthcare provider and include preventive medications (chemoprevention) or preventive surgery (prophylactic mastectomy).

Breast cancer stages

Doctors classify breast cancer mainly according to how large the tumor is and whether it has already spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. There are five different stages of breast cancer:

  • Stage 0: There is a pathological proliferation of cells located only in the glands of the breast, which has not yet affected the surrounding tissue.
  • Stage 1: The size of the tumor at this stage can be up to 2 centimeters (cm). No lymph nodes are affected, or only small groups of cancer cells are present.
  • Stage 2: At this stage, the tumor is 2 cm wide and has begun to spread to surrounding nodes, or it is 2-5 cm wide and has not yet spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3: Now the tumor has spread to several lymph nodes and is up to 5 cm wide or it is larger and has spread less.
  • Stage 4: In the last phase, cancer has spread throughout the body and to more distant organs, usually the liver, bones, lungs or brain. At this stage, cancer is treatable but unfortunately non-curable.

Survival rate of breast cancer

Survival rates for breast cancer have improved overall but still vary globally. In general, access to healthcare has improved in many developed countries and most cases of breast cancer are detected early. Also, surgery and tailored treatments have evolved. While we aren’t there yet, we are moving towards a future where everyone survives breast cancer, so, let’s continue to support research advancements to ensure that this happens. 

How to support someone going through breast cancer

Breast cancer is a sensitive topic that is not only physically exhausting. People need emotional and practical support. Persons affected can have feelings of  anger, sadness, fear or depression. Sometimes it is hard to react to those intense emotions but standing by them is the best way of support. Show your emotions – even if that means you will cry, have arguments or long discussions. Allow them to express what they think and feel, listen to them and be there when they need you the most. To support your loved one, try keeping a positive attitude to prevent your and their worries from taking over. When emotions become overwhelming it can also help to be active – for both of you. Exercising both mind and body is a great way to fight tension and will help you regain a sense of control. Even easy yoga exercises or meditation will help.

For practical support, it is best to take the pressure off your afflicted friend, partner or family member in their daily routine. For example, you can carry out tasks such as cleaning orcooking.Sometimes it’s hard to help because you don’t want to be too pushy, so a good way to offer your support is by saying: “Would you like me to cook tonight?” instead of “What can I do for you?”. Some people will feel embarrassed about your assistance. They need to keep their life as normal as possible, so don’t feel hurt, just try to support them whenever it’s needed. You will figure out the best solution together with your loved one and help them to overcome this difficult time together.

Women's Best donation

In support of Breast Cancer Awareness and as part of our campaign this year, Women’s Best is donating $5,000 USD to the Future Dreams charity. Future Dreams was founded by Sylvie Henry and Danielle Leslie, a mother-daughter duo who both had breast cancer. The charity’s mission is that nobody should ever have to face breast cancer on their own. They aim to make everyone’s breast cancer experience less bleak and lonely by sticking to their core values, where they provide practical and emotional support for those diagnosed with breast cancer, promote breast health awareness, and fund vital secondary breast cancer research. To learn more about Future Dreams check out their website here. We believe it is our responsibility to use our platform and reach out to raise awareness about the number one cancer in women and to help contribute to the vital research needed in moving toward a future where everyone can survive breast cancer. We believe it is our responsibility to use our platform and reach to raise awareness about the number one cancer in women and to help contribute to the vital research needed in moving toward a future where everyone can survive breast cancer.

Breast cancer charities

If you would like to support breast cancer research, treatments, education and awareness, events, and women in need, you can do so by contributing through monetary donations to research foundations and or charitable organizations. We have provided some links further down in the article that may be of interest.

Resources to learn more

Here are some useful resources for more information on breast cancer and breast health. Learn more about how you can donate, fundraise and volunteer as well as find support, tools, programs, and financial support and services that may be available if you or a loved one are affected by breast cancer.

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