Breast Care Break Down: What You Should Know About Breast Cancer

[avatar user=”dponieman” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=””]By: Diego Ponieman, M.D. M.P.H.[/avatar]”1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one,” wrote actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus just a few weeks ago. All of us know someone – family member, co-worker, friend – who has breast cancer, which is the second most common cancer affecting American women. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month but, as I tell my patients, particularly African-American and Latina women with a history of breast cancer in their families, you must be mindful and vigilant all year long.

When detected early in its localized stage, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is near 100%. Mammograms are the primary screening method, as they can identify breast abnormalities before physical symptoms appear. Every-other-year mammography exams are recommended for women aged 50 – 74. Women as young as 40 may also elect to be screened.

According to the American Cancer Society, decades of research show that women who have regular mammograms are more likely to detect breast cancer early and less likely to need aggressive treatment like surgery and chemotherapy.

Although self-exams should never replace regular screenings, understanding your body and how your breasts normally look and feel is key to maintaining breast health. The National Breast Cancer Foundation suggests that adult women of all ages perform breast self-exams at least once a month either in the shower, in front of a mirror, or lying down.

As soon as you notice anything out of the ordinary, such as a lump, consult with your doctor. While most breast lumps are harmless, you should immediately speak with your doctor and have the lump examined.

Other possible symptoms to look for: 

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Swollen lymph nodes

We don’t know why, but breast cancer is more likely to affect people of color. Although the breast cancer diagnosis rate is slightly lower among African-American women than white women, breast cancer mortality is higher in African-American women. Among Hispanic women, breast cancer is the most common cancer and leading cause of cancer death.

Because breast cancer is commonly caused by changes in cells over time – as opposed to inherited genes that cause cancerous cells – it’s even more important to talk to your doctor about questions and concerns. At ACP, our network of physicians and specialists in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens are laser-focused on delivering high-quality, culturally sensitive, patient-centered care to New York City families. Ask your doctor today about the breast cancer prevention and detection strategy that works best for you.