Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 Canadian women, and chances are, you know someone that has been affected by this disease. The best way to show your support is to learn about breast cancer and get screened early. Through education and prevention, Canadians can significantly help reduce the number of new diagnoses each year.
What Are the Risks?
One of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer is a history of the disease in your family tree. Research beyond your mother and grandmother. Find out if any men in your family have a history of breast cancer. Although breast cancer is much rarer in men, it is still a risk factor. Other risks include high alcohol consumption, obesity, tall height, adult weight gain, hormone replacement therapy, oral contraceptives, and rare genetic conditions. To find out more about the potential risk factors, click here.
There are many risk factors that are beyond our control. However, learning about lifestyle choices that could decrease our risk of breast cancer may encourage these healthier habits.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms?
Early detection of signs and symptoms is crucial to fighting the battle with cancer. It can be difficult to detect the early stages of breast cancer, as the most common sign is a hard but tender lump in one or both breasts that doesn’t go away throughout the menstrual cycle. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, other signs and symptoms of breast cancer are:
- A lump in the armpit
- Changes in the shape of your nipple (i.e. inverted nipple)
- Changes in the look, size, and shape of your breast
- Discharge from the nipple
If you experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. Symptoms may change if the tumour begins to spread to other parts of the body, in which case, further signs of cancer may appear, such as headache, cough, weight loss, jaundice, nausea, weakness, or bone pain.
If you’re between the ages of 50 and 69 (74 in Ontario), it’s important to get routine screenings for breast cancer, as research shows that the majority of new breast cancer diagnoses occur in that age range. Screenings allow doctors to find very early signs of breast cancer in order to provide the best possible treatment. The most common form of breast cancer screening in all provinces is mammography, which takes an x-ray image of your breast.
While women experience breast changes throughout the month due to their period, it’s important to know the look, shape, and feel of your breasts, armpits, and muscles up to the collar bone. A familiarity with your breasts can also help you detect early signs of the disease. If you notice any irregular changes to the areas mentioned above, see your doctor.
How to Get Involved
Did you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month? There are many ways you can show your support for breast cancer research and awareness, not only during October, but throughout every month of the year. Volunteer at your local fundraiser, make a personal donation, participate in a local event, or find out how you can lend your voice to advocate for better care and prevention.