Breast Cancer Awareness:
Important Regardless of Age/Sex
According to research done by the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program, an authoritative source for cancer statistics in the United States, the median age of people diagnosed with breast cancer is 62; a quarter of those diagnosed are women between the ages of 75-84. While most people who get breast cancer are women, men can get it too.
You should do breast self-exams about once a month so you can recognize any changes in your body.
Symptoms (for women and men) may include:
- A lump or thickening in or around the breast or underarm area
- Nipple tenderness
- A change in the skin texture around the breast (redness or scaling)
- Any unexplained change in the size or shape of the breast (including swelling, dimpling, shrinkage)
- Nipple discharge
If you experience any of these symptoms you should contact your doctor. Remember, not every lump is cancer, and not every cancerous lump is malignant; but it’s still important to have an exam.
Mammograms are used to find cancer before you have any symptoms. It’s important to talk about screenings with your doctor, especially if you have symptoms or family history.
The American Cancer Society has recommended guidelines for screenings:
- Women 40-44 years old should have the choice to start annual mammograms if they wish to do so
- Women 45-54 years old should get mammograms every year
- Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every two years, or continue yearly screening if they prefer
While there is a lot of awareness and information out there about breast cancer, there’s also some misinformation.
Here are a few myths:
Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer. Wrong—only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be cancer. Regardless—if you find a lump, get it checked.
Men don’t get breast cancer. Wrong—men can get breast cancer. Unfortunately, men have a higher mortality rate with breast cancer. Since there’s not as much awareness among men and they’re less likely to think a lump is breast cancer, they delay seeking treatment. Men should do self-exams as well and get any lumps checked out.
A mammogram can cause breast cancer to spread. Wrong—breast compression during a mammogram cannot cause cancer to spread. The National Cancer Institute says the benefits “nearly always” outweigh the potential harm from radiation exposure (which is extremely low).
If you have a family history of breast cancer, you’re likely to get it too. Wrong—women with a family history are in a higher risk group, but most women who have breast cancer have no family history of it. About 10% of people diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of it.
Remember—breast cancer is not specific to one age group or one sex. Everyone needs to do regular self-exams and be aware of changes in their bodies. It’s also important to talk to your doctor about screenings and what makes the most sense for you.
Sources: National Breast Cancer Foundation, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, National Institute of Health, American Cancer Society