I have gone back and forth on this blog post for a very long time. Do I post, or do I not? This topic is so important, yet so personal. There are so many facets, so many different stories and each one is uniquely different, but likely heartbreaking in and on itself. Writing these words, there are so many options to “get it wrong”. To perhaps offend someone, or perhaps be inconsiderate because my experience is different. In the end, though, I feel this topic is too important. And it deserves to be heard. And if I can add a small addition to the importance… let me aim to find the right words. A word of warning – if this content is in any way triggering for you – perhaps this may not be the right post for you at this time. Please feel free to skip 💕.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month 💚. I have to admit that I walked through the last few years knowing about breast cancer, and acknowledging that it is important. But, selfishly and egotistically (and perhaps this is human?!) I did not think about it too much until I was personally hit. Someone in my family has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. It is malicious (highly malicious) and required a pretty swift breast augmentation. Which is currently being followed up with hormone therapy. Going through that with a loved one is absolutely horrendous and I bow to anyone who is a caregiver. It is hard (both physically and mentally), strenuous, and absolutely selfless. I fully realize it is nowhere nearly as bad as the person going through (any type of) cancer, but I cannot write from their perspective ❤️🩹.
Suddenly though, I am being hit with a whole new reality. Malicious breast cancer in my family means that I, too, am now at a potentially higher risk. A risk that means extra testing, scans, and screening. I absolutely am aware of the privilege of having the opportunity for pre-emptive care and I am grateful for it. I understand that many people do not. At the same time, I want to know everything about it there is to know. Because science, research, pre-emptive checking, and awareness have increased significantly and as a result, the number of deaths in association with breast cancer has been declining 🙏🏻.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the breast tissue. In 2020, it was the most common cancer worldwide. Whereas breast cancer is a lot more common in women, breast cancer can also occur in men. Breast cancer begins when cells start to grow abnormally in the breast tissue. These cells tend to grow more rapidly than normal cells and thereby form a lump, or mass. Cells may also metastasize through your breast, to your lymph nodes, or other parts of your body. Breast cancer oftentimes begins in or near the milk-producing ducts, or in the glandular tissue (= the tissue that produces milk). Why some people develop breast cancer and others do not, oftentimes irrespective of risk factors (we will discuss those further below), is not known. Scientists believe that it is a mixture of genetic makeup, coupled with environmental factors.
What can be possible Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
Please watch out for any of the below symptoms. The better you know your breasts, the easier and earlier you can detect any possible changes and hopefully catch anything harmful as early as possible:
- A breast lump or thickening that feels different than the surrounding breast tissue
- A change in size or shape. This can also include a change in appearance
- Changes to skin over or on your breasts, such as dimpling or puckering (think of the skin of an orange)
- A newly inverted nipple
- A rash, itching, redness, or crusting of the skin on the breast or around the nipple
- Discomfort or pain in one breast that newly developed and does not go away
Potential Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
As said above, albeit risk factors make it more likely that you may develop breast cancer, it does not mean that you will develop cancer. However, it helps to be aware of these potential risks (please note that this list may not be exhaustive):
- Being female. Unfortunately, women tend to develop breast cancer a lot more than men
- Age. Breast cancer appears to develop more in older people than younger.
- A personal history of breast conditions or cancer. This includes a family history of breast cancer
- Inherited genes that increase cancer risk. This can include, for example, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene, which can greatly increase your risk of breast and other forms of cancer
- Beginning menopause at an older age, and postmenopausal hormone therapy
- Having never been pregnant. It appears not having been pregnant puts women at a higher risk than women who had one or more pregnancies
How to check your Breasts
Let me start by saying that it is super important to know what is normal for you and your breasts. Everyone’s breasts are uniquely different and beautiful. They differ in size, shape, and feel. One breast may also be slightly larger than the other. There are also certain times in your life where breasts change. They may develop during puberty, change over the course of your menstrual cycle or during pregnancy, as well as after menopause.
The more familiar you are with your breasts and their natural changes, the quicker it will help you to detect anything unusual. It is therefore recommended to do a breast exam at least once a month.
LOOK at yourself in the mirror and scan your breasts for any potential changes. Has any of the skin experienced change? Does anything look different in terms of tissue? Is there maybe something leaking from your nipples? Continue this also from each side and when your hands are raised over your arms.
FEEL your breasts. This is ideally done by laying down with the first few fingers of your hands. Use your right hand to feel your left breast and vice versa. Keeping the fingers together use a firm touch and a circular motion. Follow a pattern that covers the entire breast. You could, for example, start at the nipple and widen the circle moving outward. Where your breast tissue is especially deep, your touch should be firm enough to feel your ribs underneath. You also do not want to forget the tissue going from your collarbone to your abdomen and also along the armpits towards your cleavage.
As the last step, do the same exam standing up. You can, for example, do this in the shower, as it is easier with wet hands.
What if you find something unusual?
Please reach out to your physician and get it checked out. It (hopefully 🙏🏻) is just a scare. There have been times in my life where I was afraid of the answer a doctor would provide me with and I procrastinated going. I have come to realize that in the end, though, it is always better to know than not. At least then you can take action and the earlier something is detected, the earlier it can be treated 💖.