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October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But what is cancer? How does it form? Cancer forms when the DNA – the basic building blocks of cells – in a healthy cell becomes damaged. This causes the mutated cell to begin created more damaged cells at a rapid rate, forming lumps, growths, or tumors.

Breast cancer, in particular, usually begins in the lobules or milk ducts. Sometimes, though less often, breast cancer can begin in the stromal tissue. This is the fatty and fibrous connective tissue of the breast. If left untreated, the breast cancer can spread to the lymph nodes. Once there, cancer can spread more easily to other parts of the body. This is one of many reasons it is important to check yourself for anything unusual in your breast tissue.

It is important to not only check yourself, but to have your doctor check.

Self-examinations should be performed at least once a month. For more information on how, check out this link. Having your doctor perform a clinical exam is also important as they may be able to see or feel something that does not look or feel different to you. Last, a mammogram – an x-ray of the breast tissue that allows any suspicious areas to be examined – should be performed in women over 40 every one or two years. Even women who have no known risks or symptoms should schedule these.

While it is difficult to determine the exact cause of breast cancer, several risk factors have been identified. These include a family history of breast cancer, early menstruation (before the age of 12) and late menopause (after the age of 55), among others. The risk factors listed on the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s website do not ensure that someone will develop breast cancer and around 60-70% of those diagnosed have none of the identified risk factors.

On the other hand, there are many myths that things we use every day cause cancer. These include caffeine, deodorant, cell phones, and microwaves. None of these cause cancer. There is also the myth that you can “catch cancer” simply by coming into contact with someone who has cancer. This is impossible.

One in eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime and breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form in women. It is also the second leading cause of death among women. However, there are over 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. today. While breast cancer in men is rare, it does occur and it is estimated that around 440 men will die of breast cancer each year.

We have, of course, not been able to provide you with all of the information there is on breast cancer in this short blog post. If you would like more information, some of the best places to go are the American Cancer Society, the World Health Organization, and The National Breast Cancer Foundation. The NBCF has a Breast Health Guide. They also have an amazing YouTube channel with lots of wonderful videos.