Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we would like to inform you about everything you should know about breast cancer. What are the risks, symptoms and is there a chance to prevent it? This article will give you answers to many important questions.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women and the most common form of cancer overall. Breast cancer is an unnormal and rapid division of breast cells. They continue to gather and begin to form masses or lumps. Cancer cells can spread from the breast to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body by metastasis.
Breast cancer develops mainly in three different phases: During breastfeeding, pregnancy or puberty. After menopause, the glandular tissue disappears, but the disease can still develop. Although breast cancer is more common in women, men may also be affected in rare cases.
Breast cancer symptoms
The first breast cancer symptoms typically occur as a lump under the armpit or as an area with thickened tissue in the chest. Other symptoms may include chest or underarm pain that remains unchanged during the menstrual cycle. The appearance of the nipples can also be a good indicator, e.g. a sunken, inverted or deformed nipple can be a symptom. However, most breast nodes are not cancerous.
Breast cancer prevention
Here are some prevention tips for women with average breast cancer risk:
Breast screening is key:
Discuss with your doctor when you should conduct breast cancer screening exams and tests, such as clinical breast exams and mammograms.
Breast cancer awareness self-examination:
Regular self-examination of your breasts is an essential way to find breast cancer at an early stage when there is a greater likelihood that it can be successfully treated. Find out how to perform the self-test here. If there are unusual lumps, changes, or other signs in your chest area, arrange an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Other ways to prevent breast cancer:
- Moderate your alcohol consumption.
- Work out as often as you can. It is best to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Restrict postmenopausal hormone therapy, as it may raise the chances of breast cancer.
- Be sure to maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of breast cancer. If you need help slimming down, ask your doctor about healthy weight loss methods.
- If you belong to a higher risk group, for example through your family history or factors like precancerous breast cancer, you should consider risk reduction options such as preventive medications (chemoprevention) or preventive surgery (prophylactic mastectomy).
Breast cancer stages
Doctors classify breast cancer mainly according to how large the tumor is and whether it has already spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. There are five different stages of breast cancer:
- Stage 0: There is a pathological proliferation of cells located only in the glands of the breast, which has not yet affected the surrounding tissue.
- Stage 1: The size of the tumor at this stage can be up to 2 centimeters (cm) at this stage. No lymph nodes are affected, or only small groups of cancer cells are present.
- Stage 2: At this stage, the tumor is 2 cm wide and has begun to spread to surrounding nodes, or it is 2-5 cm wide and has not yet spread to the lymph nodes.
- Stage 3: Now the tumor has spread to several lymph nodes and is up to 5 cm wide or it is larger and has spread less.
- Stage 4: In the last phase, cancer has spread to more distant organs, usually the liver, bones, lungs or brain.
Survival rate of breast cancer
Survival rates for breast cancer have improved overall but still vary globally. In general, access to healthcare has improved in many countries and most cases of breast cancer are detected at an early stage. Also, surgery and tailored treatments have evolved. So, stay strong and positive, the chances of defeating breast cancer are good!
How to support someone going through breast cancer
Breast cancer is a sensitive topic that is not only physically exhausting. People need emotional and practical support. Persons affected can have feelings like anger, sadness, fear or depression. Sometimes it is hard to react to those intense emotions but standing by them is the best way of support: Show your emotions – even if that means you will cry, have arguments or long discussions. Allow them to express what they think and feel, listen to them and be there when they need you the most. To support your loved one, try keeping a positive attitude to prevent your and your friend’s worries from taking over. When emotions become overwhelming it can also help to be active – for both of you. Exercising mind and body is a great way to fight tension and will help you regain a sense of control. Even easy yoga exercises or meditation will help.
For practical support, it is best to take the pressure off your afflicted friend, partner or family member in their daily routine. For example, you can carry out tasks such as cleaning, cooking or taking their children from or to school. Sometimes it’s hard to help because you don’t want to be too pushy, so a good way to offer your support is by saying: “Would you like me to cook tonight?” instead of “What can I do for you?”. Some people will feel embarrassed about your assistance. They need to keep their life as normal as possible, so don’t feel hurt, just try to support whenever it’s needed. You will figure out the best solution together with your loved one and help them to overcome this difficult time together.
Breast cancer ribbon
The international symbol for breast cancer awareness is the pink ribbon. Pink ribbon wearers thus show their moral support for women with breast cancer.
Breast cancer charities
If you would like to support the fight against breast cancer there are some options you have, for example donating money to a research foundation such as the “Breast Cancer Research Foundation” in the U.S. or the “Pink Ribbon Deutschland” in Germany.