Let’s not sugar coat this: Cancer is effing scary. Adults get it, kids get it, talented celebrities who seem untouchable get it, and people in our own family get it all the time. It’s become such an ever present topic in our culture that I’ve found myself scoffing at articles saying that everything from dark chocolate to coffee to bib lettuce can reduce cancer risks, muttering, “In a week they’ll tell us that all of these things are the leading causes of cancer!” It’s hard not to be a little cynical about something that so many people suffer from out of nowhere, right?
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time dedicated to learning more about that one cancer that might scare you a little more than any other. But instead of being so afraid of it that we try to ignore it, let’s take some time to actually know a little something about breast cancer. Buying a pink item isn’t going to tell you anything about the actual disease, folks. Trust, you’ll be more informed and less paranoid after you find out everything you need to know about breast cancer.
How exactly does breast cancer work?
Okay, so cancer in general is the development of malignant (another word for unhealthy) cells developing in the body. So imagine that but centered in breast tissue.
Can men get it?
Yep! Male-bodied people have breast tissue, too. The risk is very low, however.
Eek, what are the symptoms?
Symptoms of breast cancer include lumps in the breast, thicker feeling breast tissue, fluid coming out of the nipples, a change in breast shape, the development of inverted nipples and red patchy skin.
What are the chances of developing it?
Cancer is, for a lack of a better phrase, a tricky bastard. The exact causes of it are a bit of a mystery so it’s difficult to pinpoint specifics.
Here’s what doctors and researches do know: In the United States, non-Hispanic white women are mostly likely to develop breast cancer, followed by black women. Asian women have a lower risk of developing it. A lot of factors are said to increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer, including obesity, getting your period at an early age, exposure to radiation, excessive drinking and giving birth after the age of 35. Another risk factor is having a family history of breast cancer, but there are also plenty of people who develop breast cancer without anyone else in their family having it. Freaked out yet? It seems like there is no escaping this thing but don’t get too paranoid. Cancer is so strange because sometimes it affects the healthiest people and never strikes people wit super unhealthy lifestyles. It’s best not to freak out about the chances of getting it and just make sure that you pay attention to your body so that you’re aware of any possible symptoms.
Okay but how do you get rid of it?
There are a lot of different treatment options for breast cancer and it all depends on factors like type, stage, overall health and more. Surgery options include removing the cancerous from the breast (lumpectomy), removing an entire breast (mastectomy) or disection lymph nodes that have been struck by the cancer.
Radiation therapy is another option which consists of high power energy beams killing cancer cells. This is often an option for more severe cases of breast cancer, especially ones that have spread.
Then there’s chemotherapy, a term most of you have probably heard of. This method uses drugs to fight the cancer and is usually the go-to treatment option if a cancer has a high risk of returning, if it has already spread, or if the cancerous tumors are large. Chemo can have a pretty intense effect on the body, leading to nausea, vomiting, fatigue and an impaired immune system.
There are also hormone treatment options for types of breast cancer that are hormone sensitive and targetted drug treatments which include medicines that are designed to attack specific abnormalities in the breast tissue.
Some cancer patients are prescribed medical marijuana as a way to ease the side-effects of grueling treatments.
Don’t they have those screening things for breast cancer?
You’re probably thinking of mammograms which are basically x-rays of the breast that is meant to help check for signs of breast cancer. This is a great way to potentially detect cancer before it spreads or worsens…when it works. Here’s the thing: There’s a lot of controversy over mammograms these days. Sometimes the results can be inaccurate and there isn’t any proof that regular mammograms even reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer. I mean, if you have a malignant tumor that you didn’t know about, a mammogram might detect it but if the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body, there’s not much that a mammogram can actually do. Still, there are benefits of mammograms when you get older, but it’s always good to get a second opinion just in case!
Is there an easy way to do a breast cancer self-exam? How often should I do it?
Are you 18 or older? Doctors suggest doing a breast self-exam once a month. You can understand why once you know that over 40 percent of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer found a lump during a self-exam. There are a few different ways you can go about a self-exam:
Lying down: Flop down on that bed of yours and put a pillow under your left shoulder and put your left arm behind your head. Use the pads of your fingers on your right hand to gently rub circles around your entire left breast as well as around your armpit. Don’t forget to gently squeeze your nipple, too, to check for discharge. Repeat with the right breast.
In the shower: Use the pads of your fingers to inspect your breasts just as you would do lying down. If you feel a lump or hardened flesh, let a doctor know ASAP.
In the mirror: How are you going to know if anything funky is happening to your breasts if you don’t even get a good look at them often enough to see if something is off. Do a serious inspection of your breasts at least once a month and notice if you have any discoloration, peeling, dimpling of the skin, etc. And remember that just looking at them head on won’t always tell you much! Raise your arms and check ’em out then put your hands on your hips and flex your chest like a superhero to see if you notice anything funky.
OMG I FELT A LUMP IN MY BOOB!
First of all, don’t freak out too soon. Okay, easier said than done but here are a couple of things to consider:
- Not all lumps are cancerous.
- Not all cancerous lumps are malignant tumors.
That’s why it’s best to see a doctor ASAP when you notice something off about you breasts. Also, make sure that you’re getting breast exams during your run-of-the-mill doctor’s appointments, too! They might feel or notice something that you didn’t.
Yes, despite all of these facts breast cancer is still terrifying, but knowing a little bit more about it can help prevent you from becoming another cancer statistic in the future. Keep an eye on the ta-tas!
Has anyone close to you ever developed breast cancer? Are you paranoid about it? Tell us in the comments!