What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is abnormal tissue within the breast. There are four types of breast cancer, to include ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma, inflammatory breast cancer, and metastatic breast cancer. The type of breast cancer you are diagnosed with differs according to where the abnormal tissue is found within the breast. Early detection and screening are important because they can reduce or prevent the spread of breast cancer throughout the body.
Breast cancer is usually found in women, although men can be diagnosed with breast cancer too. Around 1 in 100 breast cancer patients is a male. Because breast cancer is more common in women than in men, there is much more research on female patients.
Age, family history, reproductive history and your personal cancer history decide most of the risk factors for breast cancer in women. Breast cancer is most often diagnosed in women ages 50 and older. In addition, a family history of either breast or ovarian cancer greatly increases your risk for breast cancer and women who have survived breast cancer once are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer later on. Research also shows that the age of first menstruation and age upon entering menopause also determine your risk for breast cancer.
The best ways to lower your risk for breast cancer include maintaining weight appropriate to your height/age, exercising 30 minutes or more daily and breastfeeding your children if you are able to. There have been linkages found between hormone replacements and some birth controls, so be sure to speak with your doctor before starting any new medications or changing your dosages.
Signs of breast cancer include the following:
- Nipple discharge
- Skin changes: puckering, dimpling, rash around nipple, redness or inflammation to breast
- Inverted nipple or other changes to nipple
- Changes in the size or shape of the breast that are not due to pregnancy hormones or menstrual hormones
- Lump, pain or swelling in the breast, armpit or chest
Early Intervention is Key
Screenings are the best way to detect breast cancer early! Remember, cancer is most treatable the earlier that it is detected. The two best forms of breast cancer screenings are breast exams and mammograms.
Clinical Breast Exams: Clinical breast exams are a physical examination of the breasts. Women ages 25-40 are recommended to have a clinical breast exam at least once a year. This simple screening can be done by your primary care provider.
Mammograms: Mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer early in women. This screening is an X-ray of your breast. Your primary care provider most likely does not have the ability to perform this procedure in-house and will send a referral for screening elsewhere. Women should begin yearly mammograms at the age of 40. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act mandated that most insurances, including Medicare and Medicaid, begin covering the cost of mammograms at no out-of pocket cost to the patient.
If you do not have insurance, cost should not be a barrier to receiving a mammogram. There are resources available within your community-use them! Community Health Care Systems offers Care Coordination that can help you find resources within your community. Other options include:
- The Komen Breast Care Helpline can help you find low-cost breast cancer screening in your area. Call the helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET.
- The CDC Breast and Cervical Cancer Program can help link you with free or low-cost mammograms and pap smears. Call the Georgia branch at (404) 657-7735.
- Augusta University offers a “Mobile Mammography” program, which is a mobile mammogram clinic that travels to locations throughout the CSRA. Call 706/774-4149 or toll-free 866/774-4141 to learn more about if/when they will be near you.
- Some health departments offer a breast and cervical cancer program. Contact your local health department to find out if mammograms are offered in your area.
- National Breast Cancer Foundation has partnered with hospitals in all 50 states to provide free mammograms. Participating hospitals in our area include Navicent Health, The Imaging Center of Warner Robins, Northside Hospital in Macon and Augusta University in Augusta.
Breast Cancer Resources/Support