Breast Cancer Awareness is more than just a month


Carol VanCleve, BSN, RN – Harris Breast Care Center

According to the American Cancer Society, by the end of 2018, an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer will have been diagnosed in women, and about 63,960 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS – non-invasive and the earliest form of breast cancer) will have been diagnosed. With these estimates in mind, a woman currently has a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. These statistics continue to make breast cancer the most common cancer among women, second only to skin cancer.

As October ushers in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a great time to take stock of our knowledge of this disease and its risks and symptoms. But awareness is more than just a month. It’s about staying informed and taking the right steps to fight breast cancer, including early detection through annual mammograms. But first, a quick refresher on the basics of breast cancer.

How does it start?

Put simply, breast cancer is caused by a genetic abnormality. Only a very small percentage (5-10 percent) of breast cancers come from an abnormality that you inherit from your mother or father. The vast majority are caused by abnormalities that come from general aging and wear and tear on the body. In fact, aging is probably the largest risk factor for breast cancer, with most breast cancers found in women age 50 and up. Other risks include a family history of breast cancer, a lack of physical activity and excess weight or obesity after menopause. Most women have some risk factors, including younger women (women under 45 account for roughly 11 percent of new breast cancer cases in the U.S.).

How do I know if I have it?

Breast cancer symptoms can vary from person to person. Warning signs can include:

• New lump in the breast or underarm

• Thickening or swelling of part of the breast

• Irritation or dimpling of breast skin

• Redness or flaky skin on the breast

• Pain or pulling in of the nipple area

• Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood

• Any change in the size or shape of the breast

• Pain in any area of the breast

It’s important to remember that these symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cancer, and some people diagnosed with breast cancer have no symptoms at all. That’s why early detection is so essential to fighting the disease as effectively as possible.

Annual mammograms and reducing risk

Early detection is key to fighting breast cancer and can lead to an easier treatment plan. One of the best methods of early detection is an annual mammogram. A mammogram is a simple, routine screening that helps detect breast cancer earlier than waiting for symptoms to appear. Regular mammograms are recommended for women 40 years of age and older. If you are at higher risk for breast cancer, you may need to begin regular mammograms sooner. It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about your risks and the most appropriate time for you to get started with mammograms.

In addition, there are proactive things you can do to help lower your risk for breast cancer, including regular exercise, adequate sleep, healthy eating, limited alcohol intake and avoidance of chemicals that can cause cancer.

If you would like to schedule a mammogram or talk with a doctor about your breast health, call 844.414.DOCS (3627) and they can get you connected to the right care. For more information on breast cancer, visit and