Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so I wanted to take some time and highlight the topic a bit more. 

Breast cancer is something that runs deep in my family, so it hits a little closer to home. Both of my grandmothers and one great-grandmother all suffered with the diagnosis. Thankfully, due to the amazing medical community and those who have dedicated their careers to improving the lives of patients, I am lucky to still have both grandmothers here to this day.  

Since breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer among American women (behind skin cancer), it’s important to remain educated on the topic so that we can remain as vigilant as possible through continuing education, screenings, and early detection.  

Below I’ve highlighted the different types of breast cancer, some things to keep an eye out for, and the strides being made within the field. 

Breast Cancer 101: 

Ductal Carcinoma: It is the most common type of breast cancer and begins in the lining of the milk ducts. Ductal carcinoma may be either invasive (IDC) or non-invasive (ductal carcinoma in situ, DCIS). 

-Invasive Vs. Non-Invasive: Non-invasive ductal carcinoma (also called ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS) is an early cancer stage that has not spread beyond the ducts. It is usually caught during a routine breast exam or mammogram. If ductal carcinoma spreads to the surrounding tissue, it is considered invasive. Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most commonly diagnosed form of breast cancer. 

Lobular Carcinoma: This cancer begins in the lobules (milk glands) of the breast and may be either lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS, non-invasive) or invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC). LCIS rarely becomes invasive but having it in one breast increases the risk of developing invasive cancer in either breast. 

Inflammatory Breast Cancer: A type of breast cancer in which the breast looks red, swollen and feels warm. The redness and warmth occur because the cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin. 

Molecular Receptor Status/Subtypes: Receptors are molecules that cancer cells produce on their surface and there are 3 main subtypes that are commonly identified in diagnosis.  

-HER2-Positive: breast cancer is HER2-positive when it has much higher levels of the protein than normal 

-Hormone Receptor-Positive/ER-Positive: This is the most common type of breast cancer. This form’s receptors bind with one either estrogen and progesterone- which are naturally occurring hormones in the body.  

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer: This describes breast cancer cells that do not have estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors or large numbers of HER2/neu protein. It is also called ER-negative PR-negative HER2/neu-negative breast cancer. 

Recurrent Breast Cancer: Comes back when treatment doesn’t fully remove or destroy all the cancer cells. 

What To Look For: 

There are different schools of thought now on the self-breast exams, and while they shouldn’t be your sole tool, they can be a part of your screening. You can find a pretty thorough step-by-step self-exam guide here

According to MD Anderson, “Breast cancer symptoms vary from person to person and there is no exact definition of what a lump or mass feels like. The best thing to do is to be familiar with your breasts so you know how “normal” feels and looks”. It’s also important to note that just because you might experience some of the symptoms doesn’t guarantee you have breast cancer- so it’s critical to see your doctor to discuss any concerns. 

Some common symptoms can include: 

  • Lump or mass in the breast or underarm 
  • Localized, persistent breast pain 
  • Swelling of all or part of the breast 
  • Changes in the breast skin (irritation, redness, thickening, scaliness)  
  • Changes in the nipple (discharge, dimpling, puckering, changing direction)  
  • Any changes in breast size or shape  

It’s Not All Bad News!  

We’re lucky there are so many doctors, researchers, and advocates dedicated to improving the lives of breast cancer patients with the goal of eradicating the disease. Due to hard work and continued research, major advancements within breast cancer diagnosis and treatment are being made regularly.   

There are many circumstances that are out of our control, but there are things you can do to help reduce your risk. In addition to remaining observant, here’s an article from MDACC for a few ways you can help reduce your risk for breast cancer. 

While there are more than 275,000 new breast cancer cases diagnosed in our country each year, new therapies have increased the five-year survival rate to 90%. And there are now nearly 3 million breast cancer survivors in the US!  

Please know we’ll be thinking about you, but there’s also no shortage of support for those impacted by breast cancer. One resource is https://community.breastcancer.org/ which has a number of forums, engagement opportunities, and webinars. 

Sources: 

https://www.mdanderson.org/cancer-types/breast-cancer.html 

https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types

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