It’s hard to miss the fact that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as companies and organizations are promoting wider awareness and raising funds to support research in hopes of a cure. Breast cancer doesn’t really discriminate; women of practically any age can develop breast cancer, as can men.
Prevalence of breast cancer
More than 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States, and more than 40,000 women die from the disease. Men can and do get breast cancer, but men account for less than one percent of breast cancers. Most breast cancers are found in women age 50 and older, but approximately 11 percent of all new breast cancer diagnoses each year are in women under 45 years of age.
In 2013, more invasive cases of breast cancer were newly diagnosed among women age 65 and older than any other age group (99,220 diagnoses), and nearly twice as many women age 65 and older died from the disease in that same year compared to women age 50-64 (22,870 deaths and 11,970 deaths, respectively). According to BreastCancer.org, the younger a woman is, the less at risk she is of developing breast cancer. That means that your risk for developing breast cancer increases with age. At age 30, for instance, your chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the next 10 years is 1 in 228, while women at age of 60 have a 1 in 29 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the next 10 years. By age 70, the risk is 1 in 26.
Early detection and treatment improves outcomes
Most women realize the importance of having a mammogram periodically after the age of 40. According to the CDC, “The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that if you are 50 to 74 years old, be sure to have a screening mammogram every two years. If you are 40 to 49 years old, talk to your doctor about when to start and how often to get a screening mammogram.”
Early detection and treatment improves outcomes, allowing many women with breast cancer diagnosed in the early stages who receive prompt and adequate treatment to resume normal lives, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. That’s why it’s especially important for women to conduct monthly breast self-exams, get professional breast exams at least annually from a healthcare practitioner, and get regular mammograms (every two years for women over age 40) to increase the odds of early detection and thus, a better outcome.
Breast self-examination information
Generally, women age 20 and older are advised to give themselves a monthly breast self-examination. The younger a woman begins this habit, the more familiar she becomes with her breasts, which can allow her to more easily notice subtle changes and small lumps that require further evaluation by a healthcare professional.
The changes women should look for when conducting a monthly breast self-examination include:
- Discharge other than breast milk
- Swelling of the breast
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Nipple abnormalities, including pain, redness, scaliness, or turning inward
The procedures followed by healthcare professionals to conduct a professional breast exam are very similar to the physical exam a woman can give herself monthly.
It’s often easy for women to slowly taper off from their once-diligent breast self-exams, but older women should pay close attention to any suspicious changes in her breasts. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the sooner treatment can begin, and the better the odds of a positive outcome and an ability to resume your normal life following treatment.