Facts About Breast Cancer
in New Mexico
- What is breast cancer?
- Facts about breast cancer in New Mexico
- Who is at risk of developing breast cancer?
- What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
- How can I reduce my risk for breast cancer?
- What is cancer screening?
- What should I know about screening for breast cancer?
A breast is made up of three main parts: glands, ducts and connective tissue. The glands produce milk. The ducts are passages that carry milk to the nipple. The connective tissue (which consists of fibrous and fatty tissue) connects and holds everything together. No breast is typical. What is normal for you may not be normal for another woman. Most women say their breasts feel lumpy or uneven. The way your breasts look and feel can be affected by getting your period, having children, losing or gaining weight and taking certain medications. Breasts also tend to change as you age.
Many conditions can cause lumps in the breast, including cancer. But most breast lumps are caused by other medical conditions. The two most common causes of breast lumps are fibrocystic breast condition and cysts. Fibrocystic condition causes noncancerous changes in the breast that can make them lumpy, tender and sore. Cysts are small fluid-filled sacs that can develop in the breast.
Sometimes breast cells become abnormal. These abnormal cells grow, divide and create new cells that the body does not need and that do not function normally. The extra cells form a mass called a tumor. Some tumors are "benign" or not cancer. These tumors usually stay in one spot in the breast and do not cause big health problems. Other tumors are "malignant" and are cancer. Breast cancer often starts out too small to be felt. As it grows, it can spread throughout the breast or to other parts of the body. This causes serious health problems and can cause death.
Common Kinds of Breast Cancer
There are different kinds of breast cancer. The kind of breast cancer depends on which cells in the breast turn into cancer. Breast cancer can begin in different parts of the breast, like the ducts or the lobes.
Common kinds of breast cancer are:
- Ductal carcinoma. The most common kind of breast cancer. It begins in the cells that line the milk ducts in the breast, also called the lining of the breast ducts.
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). The abnormal cancer cells are only in the lining of the milk ducts, and have not spread to other tissues in the breast.
- Invasive ductal carcinoma. The abnormal cancer cells break through the ducts and spread into other parts of the breast tissue. Invasive cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body.
- Lobular carcinoma. In this kind of breast cancer, the cancer cells begin in the lobes, or lobules, of the breast. Lobules are the glands that make milk.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS). The cancer cells are found only in the breast lobules. Lobular carcinoma in situ, or LCIS, does not spread to other tissues.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma. Cancer cells spread from the lobules to the breast tissues that are close by. These invasive cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body.
There are several other less common kinds of breast cancer, such as Paget's disease or inflammatory breast cancer.
Can Men Get Breast Cancer?
Men can get breast cancer. In men, breast cancer can happen at any age, but is most common in men who are between 60 and 70 years old. Male breast cancer is not very common. For every 100 cases of breast cancer, fewer than 1 is in men. For men, signs of breast cancer and treatment are almost the same as for women.
In New Mexico, each year, it is estimated that…
- 1,310 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer
- 240 women will die of breast cancer
Being a woman is the greatest risk factor for getting breast cancer. Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. The risk of being diagnosed with most types of cancer, including breast cancer, increases with age. Although breast cancer is more common in women over age 40, younger women can also get breast cancer.
Avoiding risk factors and increasing protective factors may help prevent breast cancer. Research has found several risk factors that may increase your chances of getting breast cancer. Risk factors that increase risk of breast cancer include:
- Getting older
- Being younger when you first had your menstrual period
- Starting menopause at a later age
- Being older at the birth of your first child
- Never giving birth
- Not breastfeeding
- Personal history of breast cancer or some non-cancerous breast diseases
- Family history of breast cancer (mother, sister, daughter)
- Treatment with radiation therapy to the breast/chest
- Being overweight (increases risk for breast cancer after menopause)
- Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy (estrogen and progesterone combined)
- Having changes in the breast cancer-related genes BRCA1 or BRCA2
- Drinking alcohol (more than one drink a day)
- Not getting regular exercise
Having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease. Most women have some risk factors and most women do not get breast cancer. If you have breast cancer risk factors, talk with your doctor about ways you can lower your risk and about screening for breast cancer.
Different people have different warning signs for breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all. A person may find out they have breast cancer after a routine mammogram.
Some warning signs of breast cancer are:
- New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
- Pain in any area of the breast
Keep in mind that some of these warning signs can happen with other conditions that are not cancer. If you have any signs that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away.
Risk factors are things that increase your chance of getting cancer. You can do nothing about some risk factors, like age and family history. But there are some things you can do to improve your overall health and reduce your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
You can help lower your risk of breast cancer in the following ways:
- Get screened for breast cancer regularly. By getting the necessary exams, you can increase your chances of finding out early on if you have breast cancer.
- Control your weight and exercise. Make healthy choices in the foods you eat and the kinds of drinks you have each day. Stay active and include moderate exercise (such as walking) into your daily routine.
- Know your family history of breast cancer. If you have a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer, ask your doctor about your risk of getting breast cancer and how you can lower your risk.
- Find out the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy. Some women use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat the symptoms of menopause. Ask your doctor about the risks and benefits of HRT and find out if hormone replacement therapy is right for you.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Less than one drink per day is recommended for women.
Screening is when a test is used to look for a disease before there are any symptoms. Cancer screening tests are effective when they can detect disease early. For some cancers, detecting disease early can lead to more effective treatment and better outcomes. In other cases, the risks associated with screening and treatment may be greater than the benefits.
Breast cancer screening means checking a woman's breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease. Three main tests are used to screen the breasts for cancer. Talk to your doctor about which tests are right for you, and when you should have them.
- Mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Mammograms are the best method to detect breast cancer early when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. If you are age 50 to 74 years, be sure to have a screening mammogram every two years. If you are age 40 to 49 years, talk to your doctor about when and how often you should have a screening mammogram.
- Clinical breast exam. A clinical breast exam is an examination by a doctor or nurse, who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or other changes.
- Breast self-exam. A breast self-exam is when you check your own breasts for lumps, changes in size or shape of the breast, or any other changes in the breasts or underarm (armpit).
Which tests to choose
Clinical breast exams and breast self-exams have not been found to decrease risk of dying from breast cancer. Keep in mind that, at this time, the best way to find breast cancer is with a mammogram. If you choose to have clinical breast exams and to perform breast self-exams, be sure you also get regular mammograms.
Most likely, you can get screened for breast cancer at a clinic, hospital or doctor's office. If you want to be screened for breast cancer, call your doctor's office. They can help you schedule an appointment. Most health insurance companies pay for the cost of breast cancer screening tests.
Are you worried about the cost?
The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) offers free or low-cost mammograms and education about breast cancer.
- American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2012. Atlanta: American Cancer Society, 2012
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. (Last Updated November 30, 2010). http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/
- National Cancer Institute, NCI Visuals Online, http://visualsonline.cancer.gov.