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Breast Cancer Awareness Month - What You Should Know

Breast Cancer Awareness Month - What You Should Know
Sailaxmi Chennuru

Breast cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer among American women after skin cancer. According to statistics, 1 in 8 women, about 12%, will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. Though rare, breast cancer can affect men, which accounts for about 1 in 100 breast cancer cases diagnosed in the United States. Breast cancer can be fatal if not detected and treated in the initial stages. About 2.6% of women will die of this deadly disease. 

On the bright side, mortality rates have significantly declined over the years, all thanks to breast cancer awareness. Breast cancer awareness month (BCAM), also referred to in the USA as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), is observed every October.  

During this entire month, many organizations and breast cancer charities hold campaigns to raise awareness among women about this terrible disease and encourage them to go for regular screenings. Apart from educating people about the impact of breast cancer, many organizations raise funds to support research into its cause, diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and cure. 

Widespread support from different corners of society for breast cancer awareness and research funding has helped to a substantial decrease in the death rate. The breast cancer survival rate is steadily increasing as more and more US women perform early screening like mammograms and self and clinical tests. Thus, awareness is key in preventing or surviving breast cancer. 

Recognizing breast cancer symptoms and risk factors, scheduling regular mammograms, and adopting healthy lifestyle choices can save precious lives. With proper diagnosis and treatment in the initial stages, breast cancer is a highly treatable form of cancer and dramatically improves the quality of life. 

What is Breast Cancer? 

Breast cancer is a disease in which normal cells in the breast undergo changes in their molecular structure and grow out of control. Breast cancer can start in different parts of the breast. 

A breast has three main parts:  

  1. Lobules are the glands that make milk. Cancer that starts here is called lobular carcinoma in situ. It is non-invasive cancer, confined to milk-producing glands, and does not spread to surrounding breast tissue. 
  2. Ducts are small tubes coming out from the lobules that carry milk to the nipple. This is the most common place for cancer to start and is called ductal carcinoma in situ. It is also non-invasive and does not spread to nearby breast tissue. 
  3. The connective tissue consisting of fibrous and fatty tissue, surrounds the ducts and lobules and holds everything together. A less common form of breast cancer called phyllodes tumor can start here. 

Most breast cancer symptoms begin in the ducts and lobules. Invasive breast cancer occurs when cancer begins in one part of the breast and grows to other parts of the breast. When cancer starts in the ducts and spreads to other parts of the breast tissue is known as invasive ductal carcinoma. Likewise, when cancer cells begin in the lobules and grow outside the lobules is called invasive lobular carcinoma. Breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body through blood vessels and lymph vessels, known as metastatic breast cancer

Breast Cancer Awareness Month - What You Should Know
Breast Cancer Awareness Month - What You Should Know
Breast Cancer Awareness Month - What You Should Know

Breast Cancer Symptoms 

Every woman knows how her breasts normally look and feel. Therefore, she can easily recognize any changes that may occur. Different people can have different symptoms of breast cancer, while some may not have symptoms at all. Some warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include: 

  • Lump in the breast or underarm  
  • Change in the shape, size, or appearance of the breast 
  • Swelling or thickening of all or part of the breast 
  • Pitting or redness in the skin 
  • Sharp breast pain that comes and goes
  • Unusual nipple discharge other than breast milk 
  • Peeling, scaling, or flaking of the skin surrounding the nipple or breast skin 
  • Changes in the nipple like pulling inward, dimpled or developed sores 

Having a symptom that is listed above does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. If you notice any unusual changes in your breasts, be sure to see your doctor for a prompt evaluation. 

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

All women have the potential to get breast cancer; however, some women may be more at risk than others. While some risk factors are uncontrollable and you cannot change, there are some lifestyle-related risk factors that you can control. 

Breast cancer risk factors you cannot change: 

  • Being women: Though men can develop breast cancer, it is more prevalent in women. 
  • Age: The risk of breast cancer increases with growing age. Mostly breast cancer is diagnosed in women after the age of 50. 
  • Genetics: Women with certain mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA 2 has a higher risk of breast cancer. 
  • Radiation exposure: Women who have undergone radiation therapy for different cancer may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer later in life. 
  • Reproductive history: Women whose menstrual periods start before age 12 and menopause after age 55 are more likely to get exposed to hormones longer, raising their risk of breast cancer. 
  • Dense breasts: Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, making it difficult to see cancers on mammograms. Various factors can affect breast density, such as age, pregnancy, menopausal status, genetics, and certain drugs (including menopausal hormone therapy). 
  • Personal history of breast cancer: A woman with a previous history of breast cancer has a chance of recurrence or developing new cancer in some other part of the same breast or another breast. 
  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer: A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if her first-degree relative or family members on either her mother’s or father side of the family have had breast or ovarian cancer. 

Breast cancer risk factors you can change:  

  • Being sedentary: Physically inactive women are at risk of developing breast cancer. 
  • Obesity: Obesity after menopause can contribute to a greater likelihood of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight. 
  • Alcohol consumption: Studies show that regularly drinking alcohol plays a role in breast cancer development. The higher the consumption, the greater the risk. 
  • Hormone treatments: Studies have shown that certain birth control pills have been found to raise breast cancer risk. Also, hormone replacement therapy, specifically estrogen-progesterone therapy, is related to an increased risk of breast cancer. 
  • Reproductive history: Having the first pregnancy over the age of 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy are risk factors for breast cancer. 

How can you lower the risk of breast cancer? 

While you cannot control certain risk factors, opting for healthy lifestyle choices, getting regular screenings, and self-examination can help lower your risk of developing breast cancer

1. Maintain a healthy lifestyle 

Eating healthy food, exercising, physical activity, and limiting alcohol consumption can decrease the risk of breast cancer or improve your chances of surviving cancer if it occurs. 

2. Breast-feed 

Recent studies show that breastfeeding might play a role in breast cancer prevention. The longer you breastfeed, the greater its protective effect. 

3. Avoid or limit hormone replacement therapy (HRT) 

If you are taking or have been told to take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, talk with the doctor about the risks and benefits and find out if it is right for you. You might be able to manage symptoms with nonhormonal therapies and medications.  

4. Be vigilant  

If you notice any unusual changes in your breasts, such as lumps or skin changes, consult your doctor immediately. 

5. Go for genetic testing  

If you have a family history of breast cancer, inherited changes in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, or a family member with known gene mutation, talk to your doctor about genetic testing and ways to lower your risk. 

6. Get screened for breast cancer 

The recent increase in breast cancer survival rates is primarily due to early detection through screening. When breast cancer is detected in its initial stages, there are more treatment options and a better chance of survival. That is why regular screening is crucial after the age of 40. 

The American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends the following guidelines for women at average risk of breast cancer: 

  • Women ages 40 to 49. An annual mammogram is not recommended, but you can discuss the benefits and risks of regular screening with your doctor. 
  • Women ages 50 to 74. A mammogram every two years is recommended. 
  • Women 75 years and older. Mammograms are no longer recommended. 

A mammogram is the most effective weapon in the battle against breast cancer. It can detect breast cancer before it can be felt. Specific recommendations for mammograms vary from person to person, so talk with your physician to see if you should get regular mammograms. Furthermore, ensure you have a clinical breast examination done by your doctor once a year. 

7. Self-examine breasts regularly  

Breast self-exam can be an important way to find breast cancer early. It is recommended that women perform self-exams on their breasts at least once a month. The examination can help you know how your breasts usually look and feel so that you can be aware of any changes that occur. While no single test can detect all breast cancers early, breast self-exam in combination with other screening methods can help. 

Awareness is power! The main motto of breast cancer awareness month is to provide women with information about breast cancer and early screening procedures so that they can live in pink of health and prevent cancer. 


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HPFY Sailaxmi Chennuru

Sailaxmi Chennuru

Sailaxmi Chennuru, has been a Health Products For You contributor since 2017. A business management graduate, the study of anatomy has always been of interest to her.

After working as a medical transcriptionist for several years, she developed a keen interest ...

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