Over the course of a lifetime, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and the risk increases with age. Diagnosing breast cancer early is critical because it is easier to treat and that increases survival rates significantly: 100 percent for stage 0 and I, 92 percent for stage IIA, and 20 percent for stage IV respectively, according to the American Cancer Society.
This means knowing the symptoms, staying vigilant in watching for changes in your breast and getting yearly screening tests after age 40 is essential. Women in the 20s and 30s should get a clinical breast exam at least every three years as part of their regular health exam.
It is important to note that early breast cancer usually does not cause symptoms, which is why screening for the disease is so important. As breast cancer grows common symptoms may include:
- A lump of thickening in the breast or underarm
- Tenderness in the breast or nipple
- A change in breast or nipple shape
- Nipple discharge, may be bloody, clear-to-yellow, or green
- Red, swollen, or scaly skin on the breast or nipple
- Hot, sore, inflamed feeling in the breast
In addition to age, other factors that increase breast cancer risk include a family history of the disease, particularly a mother or sister; A genetic mutation known as the BRCA gene (most common in Eastern European Jewish descent) greatly increases the risk of breast cancer especially if combined with family history. Being overweight, obese and eating a diet high in saturated fat increases the risk; exercising regularly can lower the risk.
The female hormones, particularly estrogen, fuels breast cancer tumor growth so women who get their periods early (before age 12) or went through menopause late (after age 55) have an increased risk for breast cancer, as are women who never had children or began having children late in life. Taking Hormone Replace Therapy (HRT) after menopause is also thought to increase the breast cancer risk. Smoking and consuming more than one alcohol beverage a day also increases a woman’s risk.