Breast cancer tops all cancers for women across the globe with more than 1.7 million new breast cancer cases detected worldwide in 2012 alone. Women who live in developed countries such as the United States, England and Australia experience a higher rate of breast cancer incidences. In October 1985, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month initiated its inaugural health campaign to support research, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and a cure for the disease. Today, widespread international communities join in setting aside every October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
In 2015, an estimated 25,000 Canadian women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,000 will die from it. Approximately 68 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every day. Approximately 14 Canadian women will die of breast cancer every day. 1 in 9 women is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime (age 90) and 1 in 29 will die from it. It is expected that 220 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 60 will die from it.
To beat breast cancer, prevention through a healthy lifestyle and early detection are key. Our in-home health agency works predominantly with seniors, and many older women think they are immune from breast cancer, but they are not. Age increases breast cancer rates.
In 2015, it was estimated that 82% of new breast cancer cases would occur in Canadian women over the age of 50; 52 percent of breast cancers would be diagnosed in women 50 to 69 years of age; and 30 percent of breast cancers would be diagnosed in women over the age of 69.
About 1 in 5 breast cancers (18%) will be diagnosed in women less than 50 years of age. For women 30 to 49 years of age, the risk of being diagnosed with any type of cancer is 0.2 percent (or 1 in 500). While this risk is very low, about 36 percent of cancers diagnosed in this age group will be breast cancer.
As part of October Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we recommend a review of the following breast cancer risk factors, symptoms and prevention guidelines.
Breast Cancer Common Risk Factors
Certain known risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer, including the following:
- Genetic Risk Factors
- Age—Two-thirds of breast cancer develops after age 55.
- Gender—Women are nearly 100 times more likely than men to develop breast cancer.
- Race and ethnicity—White women are at a slightly higher risk than African-American women for developing breast cancer. Breast cancer is more common in African-American women under age 45.
- Family history—Having a parent, sister or child diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer increases a person’s own risk for breast cancer (the risk is even higher if the relative was diagnosed before age 50).
- Personal breast cancer history—A person with cancer in one breast is at higher risk for future breast cancer in another part of the same breast or in the other breast.
- Inherited genes—Roughly 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer is connected to hereditary defects or mutations passed from a parent. The most common of these abnormal genes are BRCA1 and BRCA2.
- Menstrual and reproductive history—Starting menstruation before age 12 or going into menopause after age 55 increases breast cancer risk. Never giving birth or having a first child in older age are also risk factors.
- Dense breast tissue—Breasts that have more fibrous and glandular tissue than fatty tissue are considered dense breasts. Women with dense breasts have up to twice the risk for breast cancer.
- Environmental or Lifestyle Risk Factors
- Physical inactivity—A sedentary lifestyle heightens breast cancer risk.
- Excess body weight—Being overweight or obese adds to the likelihood of breast cancer.
- Alcohol—Drinking two to five drinks daily increases the possibility of breast cancer by 1½ times.
- Birth control—Oral and injectable birth control have shown to elevate the risk level for breast cancer. Once oral contraceptive pills are stopped, the risk appears to return to normal over time.
- Combined hormone replacement therapy—The use of both estrogen and progesterone hormones after menopause suggests a link to higher breast cancer incidence and the possibility of dying of breast cancer.
- Chest radiation exposure—Radiation therapy to the chest before age 30 can raise breast cancer occurrence.
As with many types of cancer, adjustments in everyday life habits can help lower breast cancer risk. Growing evidence shows that avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol are significant in preventing breast cancer. Controlling weight through a nutritious diet and regular exercise adds a protective effect. The longer a woman breastfeeds, the less likely she’ll develop breast cancer. Preventing exposure to high doses of radiation and environmental pollutants also lowers breast cancer cases.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Regular mammography screening helps detect breast cancer in an early stage, but not all breast cancers are detected through mammography.
The Canadian Cancer Society recommends:
- If you are 40 to 49: Talk to your doctor about your risk of breast cancer, along with the benefits and risks of mammography.
- If you are 50 to 69: Have a mammogram every 2 years.
- If you are 70 or older: Talk to your doctor about how often you should have a mammogram.
Research has shown that women who have mammograms regularly are less likely to have a false positive (when the test results suggest cancer when none is present). We also know that if you do have cancer, it is more likely to be detected when you have mammograms regularly.
Your doctor may also do a physical examination of your breasts (a clinical breast examination) to check for signs of cancer.
Warning signs for breast cancer differ among women, but the most common symptoms are:
- A hard knot, lump or thickening of the breast or underarm tissue.
- A change in the size or feel of the breast or nipple.
- Discharge from the nipple.
- Redness, swelling, warmth or darkening of the breast.
- A scaly, itchy rash or sore on the breast or nipple (it may resemble the pitted skin of an orange).
- Puckering or dimpling of breast skin.
- A recent change in the symmetry of the breasts.
Performing monthly breast self-exams can help with earlier detection of a potential problem.
Treatment of Breast Cancer
After breast cancer is diagnosed, the patient’s medical team will determine the disease’s progression and suggest the most effective treatment options. Seeking a second medical opinion may be beneficial. Standard breast cancer treatment includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy and hormone therapy. Breast cancer-targeted therapy uses drugs to block specific cancer cells from growing. Depending on the size and location of the tumor and the effect on nearby lymph nodes, a lumpectomy (removal of the tumor) is advised, and in other cases, women choose to have a mastectomy (removal of part or all of the breast).
How We Can Help
With a unique approach and a higher level of quality of care, Right at Home Canada offers both non-medical and medical care to seniors and disabled adults who want to continue to live independently. We also offer in-hospital support and post hospital support through our team of dedicated nurses and caregivers.
This October, get screened and get active in support of Breast Cancer!
Online Support Resources: