Breast cancer is the most common cancer found in women, and one in eight will be diagnosed within her lifetime. While research and updated diagnostics have helped improve the outcome for many, it is still the second leading cause of cancer death for women. However, there are currently over 3.3 million survivors living in the U.S. today, and with more awareness, more can be saved and we can get closer to a cure. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to take control of your health and encourage friends and family to be diligent about theirs, too.

Breast Cancer Causes

Unlike some cancers, it can be difficult to determine an exact cause of breast cancer. The only commonality in any case is that it is caused by damage to a cell’s DNA. Certain risk factors can be present, though, ranging from genetic to environmental. Genetically, women are more likely to develop breast cancer than men, although some cases may occur. The majority of cases will be in women age 55 or older, and is more common in Caucasians. If others in your immediate family have been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, or if you have already had breast cancer in one breast, your risk of future breast cancer is increased. Other factors, such as your menstrual and reproductive history, certain gene mutations, and dense breast tissue may also play a part in the development of breast cancer.

There are also environmental and lifestyle factors that may increase your risk of developing breast cancer. Living a sedentary lifestyle, eating a poor diet high in saturated fat, being overweight or obese, or frequently consuming alcohol can increase your risk of breast cancer. Also, if you have had radiation therapy on your chest prior to the age of 30, or had combined hormone replacement therapy as prescribed for menopause, you may be at higher risk.

Although environment can play a part, there are some common misconceptions about everyday products causing breast cancer. Caffeine, deodorant, microwaves, cell phones, and contact with others who have cancer will not cause or increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

Diagnosing Breast Cancer

Properly diagnosing breast cancer must be done in a doctor’s office, although that does not mean detection cannot begin in your own home. Women are encouraged to look for early warning signs that may point toward breast cancer, such as the discovery of a new lump or a change in the breast tissue or skin. A breast self-exam should be done monthly to help identify any changes between regular doctor visits, but you can also seek help from a doctor with a clinical breast exam or mammogram.

Should an abnormality be found during a self-exam or clinical exam, your doctor will want to take a closer look. This can be done with a mammogram, ultrasound, or even MRI. If something should appear on the image, a biopsy may be necessary, which is essentially a sample of the tissue or fluid from the suspected area. The cells will then be examined carefully and tested to determine if they are in fact breast cancer or if the abnormality is caused by a different issue. Should they come back positive for breast cancer, more testing may be requested in order to determine prognosis and treatment.

Getting Involved

While not every woman will experience breast cancer, chances are she knows someone who has or will. As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is important to encourage loved ones to take charge of their health, as well as ensure you are practicing healthy habits, as well. For ideas on how you can get involved in the awareness campaign, and to learn more about breast cancer, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation website.

If you are due for a routine mammogram, or have found a potential change you would like to have examined, we offer state-of-the-art mammogram technology to provide patients with the care and answers they need. Contact the Decatur County Memorial Hospital radiology department today to schedule your appointment.