Approximately 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women other than skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society, and the second leading cause of women’s cancer deaths. Male breast cancer is relatively rare — about 1 in 100 breast cancers is diagnosed in men, according to the Centers Disease Control and Prevention.
Know your risk factors & family history
“Genetic factors and environmental factors” determine one’s risk, stated Damien Hansra, M.D., Medical Oncologist at Piedmont Fayette Hospital. “Among genetic risk factors, BRCA [gene] mutations are most common, but others exist also.”
Hansra noted several risk factors:
- Female sex
- Increased age
- Increased body weight
- Hormonal factors (higher estrogen levels, early menarche, late menopause, nulliparity, etc.)
While some factors are beyond control, a healthy diet and exercise regimen may help reduce risk. “Vegetable intake is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer, while an increase in red meat and/or processed meat consumption [promotes] higher risk,” Hansra added.
Know the symptoms of breast cancer
According to Hansra, symptoms may include a mass in the breast. Less commonly, breast cancer may present with a localized lump in the armpit or collarbone region (lymph nodes). These may not be detectable by the patient, which is why screenings are important.
Other symptoms include “redness of skin or a rash (inflammatory breast cancer), sometimes with nipple discharge or a rash around the nipple,” said Hansra.
“Signs of metastatic (stage 4) breast cancer can include pain in the bones, abdominal pain (liver), shortness of breath or a cough (lungs). The symptoms of stage 4 breast cancer often depend on where the cancer has spread.”
Prevention and screening guidelines
Women in their 40s with average risk should talk to their doctor about the right time to start annual screenings, said Hansra. Women between the ages of 50 and 74 should get an annual mammogram.
Breast Cancer treatments and prognosis
Treatment and prognosis vary by type and stage of cancer, as well as the patient’s estrogen status, HER2 status (positive or negative) and progesterone status, Hansra explained. “With localized cancer (stages 1-3), the lower the stage, the better the prognosis. For stage 4 patients, the prognosis can depend on the subtype, but overall, today’s stage 4 patients are doing much better due to great advances in treatment over the years.”
Each type of breast cancer is treated differently, Hansra explained. For stage 1-3 the primary treatment is surgery. Other treatments may include:
Dr. Hansra anticipates “new and exciting clinical trials involving immunotherapy, which rev up a person’s immune system to fight breast cancer … in conjunction with traditional therapies,” he said. Patients may ask their physician about these and other advancements including drug conjugate molecules and genomics treatment, which may potentially offer more tailored and targeted approaches.
Power in prevention
“Breast cancer awareness is very important. It is vital to know your family’s history and get screened accordingly. There is power in prevention” and healthy habits, Hansra concluded.
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