Breast Cancer: Risks and What to Watch For

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Most cases occur in women over the age of 50 but breast cancer can occur in younger women, especially if they have a family history of it. It’s important to be mindful of your body and stay aware of signs of early detection. If you notice any lump or change to your normal breast then you should see a doctor promptly.

Risk Factors

Women with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop breast cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of getting a disease. Some risk factors (such as drinking alcohol) can be avoided. But most risk factors (such as having a family history of breast cancer) can’t be avoided. Having a risk factor does not mean that a woman will get breast cancer. Many women who have risk factors never develop breast cancer.

BRCA: The Breast Cancer Gene

All inherited traits are passed down through genes. Each person has two copies of every gene: one gene from each parent. Since each parent passes down exactly half of their genes to each child, any of the parent’s genetic traits has a 50% chance of being passed on to their offspring.

The name “BRCA” is an abbreviation for “BReast CAncer gene.” BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two different genes that have been found to impact a person’s chances of developing breast cancer.

Every human has both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Despite what their names might suggest, BRCA genes do not cause breast cancer. In fact, these genes normally play a big role in preventing breast cancer. They help repair DNA breaks that can lead to cancer and the uncontrolled growth of tumors. Because of this, the BRCA genes are known as tumor suppressor genes. However, in some people these tumor suppression genes do not work properly. When a gene becomes altered or broken, it doesn’t function correctly. This is called a gene mutation.

Early Detection: Signs and Symptoms

Most people who have breast cancer symptoms and signs will initially notice only one or two, and the presence of these symptoms and signs do not automatically mean that you have breast cancer.

By performing monthly breast self-exams, you will be able to more easily identify any changes in your breast.  Be sure to talk to your healthcare professional if you notice anything unusual.

  • A Change In How The Breast Or Nipple Feels
  • A Change In The Breast Or Nipple Appearance
  • Any Nipple Discharge—Particularly Clear Discharge Or Bloody Discharge

Women 40 and older should have mammograms every 1 or 2 years. Women who are younger than 40 and have risk factors for breast cancer should ask their healthcare professional whether mammograms are advisable and how often to have them.

Treatment

Do your research. Speak with support groups and breast cancer survivors. The more information you gather about your treatment options, the better decisions you’ll make. Your treatment options depend on the stage of your disease and these factors:

  • The size of the tumor in relation to the size of your breast
  • The results of specific pathology tests (hormone receptors, HER2 receptors, grade of the cells, proliferation rate of the cells)
  • Whether you have gone through menopause
  • Your general health
  • Your age
  • Your family history or other risk factors associated with a predisposition for developing breast or ovarian cancer

Remember that while your doctors can make recommendations and provide options, the final decisions regarding your treatment are yours. With good research, you can have confidence in the path you take. By embracing your part, you’ll give yourself the best odds for a long and healthy life.

Finally…

If breast cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, there is a good chance of a cure. In general, the more advanced the cancer is (the more it has grown and spread), the less chance that treatment will be curative. However, treatment can often slow the progress of the cancer. Her Care encourages women to take charge of their health! Contact us if you have any questions or to schedule an appointment. 

(Some information provided by the National Breast Cancer Foundation).

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