Be-Aware: Monthly Breast Self-Exam Will Save Your Life

breast_cancer_awareness_lgOctober is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Most people have an unrealistic assumption that they will not be exposed to any serious diseases or disorders in their lifetime. Maybe some might think it’s a plot twist in a movie or a dramatic television show. It’s not a plot twist. It’s reality.

United States statistics:

  • 1 in 8 women each year is diagnosed with breast cancer
  • 1 in 1000 men each year is diagnosed with breast cancer
  • Each year, 246,660 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 die
  • Every 2 minutes, 1 woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, and 1 woman dies from it every 13 minutes.
  • There are currently more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors still alive in the United States.

What is cancer?

Cancer is characterized by the uncontrollable multiplication of damaged cells. When the DNA is damaged, the cell becomes mutated, multiplying rapidly to become a mass called tumor. If the mass is not aggressive or harmful, it is called a benign tumor, and the doctors usually decide not to surgically remove this. If the tumor is malignant, the mass is aggressive, and it damages tissues and cells surrounding the tumor. It can also break up into smaller pieces that enter the blood or lymph vessels, spreading to other parts of the body.

For women, breast cancer usually originates from small glands called lobules that produce milk in nursing women. For men, the breast tissue becomes damaged, and appears as a hard lump under the nipple and areola. The mortality rate is much higher in men because of late detection and little awareness of male breast cancer.

Risk Factors

Although there are still many cases of deaths from breast cancer, the death rate has been declining because of early detection, better screening, more awareness, and improved treatment. Being aware of risk factors for developing breast cancer is an important step to educating yourself and even changing your lifestyle to reduce risks. Here are some of the most common risk factors for men and women.

Risk factors for women:

  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Early menstruation (before age 12)
  • Late menopause (after 55)
  • Having first child at an older age
  • Never having given birth

Risk factors for men:

  • Radiation exposure
  • High level of estrogen
  • Family history

Here are some of the avoidable risk factors that pertain to lifestyle choices.

Avoidable risk:

  • Sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of developing breast cancer (Be active!)
  • Poor diet: High consumption of saturated fat and not enough vegetables or fruits in your diet can also increase the risk
  • Alcohol consumption: Frequent alcohol consumption increases the risk. The more you drink, the higher your risk.
  • Radiation to the chest

Self-Exam

Early detection is the key to getting the appropriate treatment needed in the earlier stages, when the malignant tumor is not big enough to break apart and spread to the rest of the body. By performing monthly breast self-exam, you can become aware of your breast health, and contact your physician as soon as you notice any change.

One self-exam you can do is to move the palm of your hand in circular motions to examine all areas of your breasts and underarms for any lumps. You can easily do this in less than 10 minutes in the shower!

There are three things to be cautious of:

  1. Change in how breast feels (nipple tenderness or change in skin texture)
  2. Change in appearance (any dimpling, unexplained swelling or shrinkage, inverted nipple)
  3. Nipple discharge (clear or bloody)

For both women and men, if there are noticeable changes, call your physician to get checked out. For detailed breast self-exam instructions, go to: http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam

Student Health & Counseling Services also provides breast exams. The service is free for all matriculated students! Make an appointment by calling (760)750-4915. Business hours: Monday – Friday 8am-12pm, 1-4:45pm

For more information on breast cancer, go to http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/ In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you can also get a free ebook providing all of the information you need to know to keep your breast healthy!

Written by Peer Educator: Hazuki Mimura 

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