Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant cancer cells form in the tissues of the breast.
Understanding Breast Cancer
Cancer is a broad term for a class of diseases characterized by abnormal cells that grow and invade healthy cells in the body. Breast cancer starts in the cells of the breast as a group of cancer cells that can then invade surrounding tissues or spread metastasize to other areas of the body.
Male Breast Cancer
All people, whether male or female, are born with some breast cells and tissue. Even though males do not develop milk-producing breasts, a man’s breast cells and tissue can still develop cancer.
Even so, male breast cancer is very rare. Less than one percent of all breast cancer cases develop in men, and only one in a thousand men will ever be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer in men is usually detected as a hard lump underneath the nipple and areola. Men carry a higher mortality than women do, primarily because awareness among men is less and they are less likely to assume a lump is breast cancer, which can cause a delay in seeking treatment. The majority of men diagnosed are over the age of 50.
What To Do If You’ve Tested Positive?
It’s natural to feel worried if you’ve tested positive for a BRCA1, BRCA2, or PALB2 gene mutation. It’s true that these gene mutations can significantly increase your chances of developing breast cancer. However, it’s important to keep in mind that many people who carry such gene mutations never develop breast cancer. Even for those who do, early diagnosis and treatment make it very likely that they will overcome the disease. With early detection, the vast majority of people survive breast cancer and go on to live full, normal lives.
When breast cancer is detected early, and is in the localized stage, the 5-year relative survival rate is 99%. Early detection includes doing monthly breast self-exams, and scheduling regular clinical breast exams and mammograms.
What is a breast self-exam?
Women should do a breast self-exam every month to look and feel for changes. Regular breast exams can help you maintain breast health and detect cancer early, when it is easier to treat and more likely to be cured.
A breast self-exam is a step-by-step method women can use to examine their breasts. By looking at and feeling your breasts regularly, you can notice anything that seems abnormal.
Why should I do breast self-exams?
Monthly breast self-exams can help you detect changes that may be signs of infection or breast cancer such as breast lumps or spots that feel different. When breast cancer is detected early, the chances for survival are much better.
Self-exams are important for breast health. But they should not replace exams and screening tests recommended by doctors. You should still see your primary care provider regularly.
Is there a particular time of the month I should do breast self-exams?
You should do a breast self-exam once a month, every month. Women who are still menstruating (having a regular period) should perform a breast self-exam after their period. Women who have stopped menstruating and those who have very irregular periods can pick a day each month. Choose a day that is consistent and easy to remember, like the first day of the month, the last day of the month or your favorite number.
How long does a breast exam take?
A breast self-exam takes only a few minutes and can easily be built into your daily schedule. You can do a breast exam when you’re:
Dressing for the day or undressing at night.
Lying in bed in the morning or at bedtime.
Taking a shower.
What are the steps of a breast self-exam?
Visual: With your shirt removed, stand in front of a mirror. Put your arms down by your sides. Look for any changes in breast shape, breast swelling, dimpling in the skin or changes in the nipples. Next, raise your arms high overhead and look for the same things. Finally, put your hands on your hips and press firmly to make your chest muscles flex. Look for the same changes again. Be sure to look at both breasts.
While standing up: With your shirt removed, use your right hand to examine your left breast, then vice versa. With the pads of your three middle fingers, press on every part of one breast. Use light pressure, then medium, then firm. Feel for any lumps, thick spots or other changes. A circular pattern may help you make sure you hit every spot. Then, press the tissue under the arm. Be sure to check under the areola and then squeeze the nipple gently to check for discharge. Repeat the steps on the other side of your body.
While lying down: When you lie down, your breast tissue spreads more evenly. So this is a good position to feel for changes, especially if your breasts are large. Lie down and put a pillow under your right shoulder. Place your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, apply the same technique as step 2, using the pads of your fingers to press all parts of the breast tissue and under your arm. Finally, swap the pillow to the other side, and check the other breast and armpit. Be sure to check under the areola and then squeeze the nipple gently to check for discharge.
When should I call my doctor?
If you find a lump or any other worrisome changes, stay calm. You should still call your healthcare provider if you notice any of these:
Change in the look, feel or size of the breast.
Change in the look or feel of the nipple.
Dimpling or puckering of the skin.
Lump, hard knot or thick spot in the breast tissue.
Nipple or other area pulling inward.
Pain in one spot that won’t go away.
Rash on the nipple.
Swelling of one or both breasts.
Warmth, redness, or dark spots on the skin.
October is the month of Breast Cancer Awareness and what we, whether a man or woman, need to remember: