October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so you’re probably seeing pink ribbons everywhere from NFL games to your local gym. It’s no wonder that breast cancer gets a lot of attention. After all, it is the most common type of cancer among women and is the second leading cause of cancer death for women (falling just behind lung cancer).
Shockingly, one in eight American women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime, and 85 percent of those women have no family history of the disease according to non-profit organization breastcancer.org. Sadly more than 40,000 American women will die from breast cancer this year, according to the Susan G. Komen organization.
Breast cancer affects women of all races, ethnicities, and ages. The most significant risk factors are being a woman and getting older (although the disease can occur in younger women as well). However, there is one way to level the playing field: early detection.
Catching the disease early dramatically increases your odds of survival according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Women over the age of 40 should receive an annual mammogram, but since the disease also affects younger women, it’s important to know about signs and symptoms that could indicate breast cancer.
Don’t just look for lumps.
When most women think of breast self-exams, they think about checking for lumps. But according to breastcancer.org, the first step of any breast exam is to stand facing a mirror and actually look for any visual changes to your breasts.
If you see any redness, puckering of your skin, or changes to the nipple, that could be indication of a problem. Be sure to raise your arms and look for the same signs in the breast tissue that extends beneath your arm toward your armpit.
Notice your nipples.
The Susan G. Komen organization says that the most common sign of breast cancer is a change to the look and feel of your nipple or nipple discharge.
Take time to learn what’s normal for your body (especially after changes caused by pregnancy or nursing) so you can quickly spot anything that’s awry.
Know the difference between harmless lumps and the dangerous kind.
Breast cancer awareness efforts have taught women to be alarmed by finding lumps in their breasts, but breast are lumpy by nature, and those normal, harmless lumps can change during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and nursing.
If you feel a lump, don’t panic. If you have lumps in both breasts, they're less of a risk, according to the Susan G. Komen organization. Lumps that are particularly hard or only on one side, however, can be a sign of cancer. If in doubt, it’s always best to take questions and concerns to your doctor.
Talk to the men in your life.
Although breast cancer is most commonly diagnosed in women, men get breast cancer, too. About 1 in 1,000 men will get breast cancer during their lives, according to the American Cancer Society. Signs of breast cancer in men are the same as they are for women: lumps, redness, puckering in the breast tissue, and changes to the nipple or nipple discharge.
Unfortunately, men may be more likely to ignore these symptoms because they are not educated to check their breast tissue regularly. Just as early detection is important for women, it can save the lives of men as well.
Takeaway: Don’t be shy about bringing up boobs, breast tissue, and self exams with friends and loved ones of both sexes the next time you find yourself in a conversation about health and self-care.