How to Catch the Early Warning Signs of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer continues to be the leading diagnosis when it comes to cancer amongst Canadian women. Although fewer people are dying from this devastating disease, the medical industry still has a long way to go in terms of finding an absolute cure.
The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation is the leading organization for awareness, support and treatment. And the statistics put out by the CBCF for 2013 are definitely worth a look:
- 1 in 4 cancer diagnoses in Canadian women is breast cancer
- Second leading cause of cancer deaths in Canadian women after lung cancer
- Breast cancer deaths have decreased by 42% since its peak in 1986
- 1 in 9 Canadian women is expected to develop breast cancer by the age of 90
- 1 in 29 Canadian women will die of breast cancer
One of the most devastating aspects of breast cancer is that its symptoms are often unnoticeable in its early stages. This is why doctors recommend that women get checked regularly for breast cancer, particularly if you have a history of the disease within your family. Although you can check for lumps and irregular growth at home on your own, it is a good idea to get it done by a health professional instead. Many clinics and hospitals offer breast detection programs for their female patients. For example, Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital runs the world-renowned ‘CIBC Breast Centre’ with a series of satellite clinics stationed across the city. It offers diagnostic, screening and mammography services for thousands of women each year.
As mentioned earlier, however, the warning signs can often go undetected. And according to doctors, there are usually no symptoms during the cancer’s early stages. But as the tumour slowly develops, you may notice the following signs:
Lump in the Breast or Underarm
- Lump is usually painless, but could cause a prickly feeling
- Typically persists after your menstrual cycle
- Lumps are often visible on a mammogram long before they can be seen or felt
- Sometimes accompanied by swelling under the armpit
Changes in Breast Shape/Colour
- Indentation or flattening of the breast
- Could be the sign of a tumour forming underneath
- Accompanied by pain or tenderness in the breast
- Reddish, pitted surface can be a sign of advanced breast cancer
- Itching, dimpling and a burning sensation
- Scaly rashes on the nipple that are typical of Paget’s disease (sometimes associated with breast cancer)
- Discharges from the nipple that could be clear or even bloody
What Causes Breast Cancer?
According to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, doctors believe that a combination of inherited and environmental factors play a major role in the cause of this disease.
Inherited factors include:
- Your genetic DNA
- Family history of the disease
- Genetic mutations and the way our bodies repair damaged cell DNA
Environmental factors include:
- The lifestyle we live and the stress level it generates
- Amount of exercise
- Eating habits
Reducing the Risk
Apart from monitoring our bodies and looking for early warning signs, there are a number of ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer right from the outset. It’s a proven fact that the way in which we choose to live has a huge impact on whether we will develop cancer. Our lives are shaped by a variety of factors including our income, the neighbourhoods we live in, the air quality around us, and our access to public parks and recreation centres.
Now we all know it can be very difficult for us to increase our incomes or change where we live. Getting a better-paying job or moving to a nicer community are not things that happen overnight — if ever. But, we can change the choices we make on a day-to-day basis when it comes to things like exercise and eating habits.
These seemingly small changes can lead to “living well”, which can dramatically decrease your chances of developing breast cancer. Living well entails:
- Getting yourself down to a healthier weight
- Eating a more balanced diet, which includes reducing your dependence on fast food
- Increasing your fitness levels by walking, running and generally keeping active
- Quitting smoking and avoiding second hand smoke
- Reducing your overall alcohol consumption (alcohol is a cancer-causing substance)
If you notice the early warning signs of breast cancer (or if your family has a history of the disease), be sure to get in touch with your doctor right away. Diagnosis can be performed in a number of ways:
- Diagnostic Mammogram
- Breast Ultrasound
- Other Imaging Techniques (like MRI)
Although it may be terrifying to learn the truth, you will dramatically increase your chances of survival if the tumour is detected early. Spare yourself and your loved ones the pain by monitoring your health closely and fighting cancer as soon as it hits.
Emma William is a consultant plastic surgeon in Canada whose private practice is largely dedicated to cosmetic surgical procedures like breast augmentation and tummy tuck. Now researching in other areas of plastic surgery, she feels that each surgery must be individualized to each person’s unique situation.