Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass (although most breast lumps are not cancerous). A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be also soft, round, tender, or even painful.
Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:
• Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt).
• Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel).
• Breast or nipple pain.
• Nipple retraction (turning inward).
• Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking, or thickened.
• Nipple discharge (other than breast milk).
Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collar bone (Sometimes this can be a sign of breast cancer spread even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt).
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
A risk factor is anything that increases your chances of getting a disease, such as cancer. But having a risk factor, or even many, does not mean that you are sure to get the disease. While you can’t change some breast cancer risk factors—family history and aging, for example—there are some risk factors that you can control.
• Lifestyle-related Breast Cancer Risk Factors.
• Drinking alcohol.
• Being overweight or obese.
• Not being physically active.
• Menopausal hormone therapy.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors that cannot be changed
• Being born female.
• Getting older.
• Inheriting certain gene changes.
• Having a family history of breast cancer.
• Race and ethnicity.
• Having dense breast tissue.
• Having certain benign breast conditions.
Can Breast Cancer Be Prevented?
There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. But there are things one can do that might lower the risk. This can be especially helpful for women with certain risk factors for breast cancer, such as having a strong family history or certain inherited gene changes. It includes:
• Close observation.
• Genetic counseling and testing.
• Breast-feed your babies for as long as possible.
• Keep physically active.
• Avoid becoming overweight.
American Cancer Society screening recommendations for women at average breast cancer risk
These guidelines are for women at average risk for breast cancer. For screening purposes, a woman is considered to be at average risk if she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, or a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer (such as in a BRCA gene), and has not had chest radiation therapy before the age of 30. Below are the guidelines for women at high risk.
• Women between 40 and 44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year.
• Women 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
• Women 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms. Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live at least 10 more years.
• All women should understand what to expect when getting a mammogram for breast cancer screening – what the test can and cannot do.
• Clinical breast exams are not recommended for breast cancer screening among average-risk women at any age.
American Cancer Society screening recommendations for women at high risk
Women who are at high risk for breast cancer based on certain factors should get a breast MRI and a mammogram every year, typically starting at age 30. This includes women who:
• Have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of about 20% to 25% or greater, according to risk assessment tools that are based mainly on family history (see below)
• Have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation (based on having had genetic testing)
• Have a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, and have not had genetic testing themselves
• Had radiation therapy to the chest when they were between the ages of 10 and 30 years
• Have Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, or have first-degree relatives with one of these syndromes
• The American Cancer Society recommends against MRI screening for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 15%.
(The Author is PhD scholar and currently working on early detection of Breast Cancer using Artificial Intelligence, Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi)