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Guest Blog: What Aging Women Need to Know About Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in women, with skin cancer being the most common. Aging women are more susceptible to developing breast cancer with women aged 55 and over having a higher risk of being diagnosed. While this may be most cases, younger woman and 1% of men still do get diagnosed, so it's important for everyone to be informed.  

As women age, the risk of developing breast cancer increases as each year passes. If no other risk factors are involved, women over the age of 30 have a 0.44% chance of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years. This increases with each year with women over 70 having a 3.84% chance of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years. If other factors are involved, such as the genetic mutations BRCA1 or BRCA2, women over 70 have a 45% - 65% chance of developing this cancer on top of the 3.84% that comes naturally with age. This is why it is important for not only older women, but all women to attend the screenings recommended by their doctors and to educate themselves on how to prevent the disease and the early detection methods available to them.

There are many different ways that breast cancer can be prevented. Unfortunately, some of the factors that increase your risk are uncontrollable, such as genetic makeup or immediate family history of the disease. But some of them are completely controllable, such as a women’s weight, diet, and lifestyle habits. By engaging in at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet, the risk of developing breast cancer decreases. Obesity not only increases your risk of breast cancer but many other health issues and complications as well. You can also decrease your risk by avoiding tobacco products and limiting, or eliminating, alcohol consumption.

Women can take advantage of early detection options. It is important to always attend yearly mammograms, which are recommended by doctors for women over 40 years old. Women under 40 who are high-risk are also recommended to have a mammogram done every year or two at the discretion of their physician. Mammograms are a type of x-ray that is used to analyze breast tissue in order to detect breast cancer as early as possible. In a mammogram, a total of four x-rays will be taken and inspected by a radiologist for masses or calcium deposits that signal a cancerous mass. Not all masses are cancerous, but if one is found, additional testing such as MRI’s or ultrasounds will be done. In certain special circumstances, a biopsy may be done to analyze the mass further.

Another method of early detection is breast self-examinations. Some doctors recommend to do them monthly as a proactive way to check yourself between mammogram appointments and physicals. There are mixed reviews on the effectiveness of this method, as most women that self-examine their breasts don’t necessarily know what to look for or they don’t perform them often enough to detect the cancerous lumps early on. With that being said, 40% of diagnosed breast cancer cases are diagnosed by women who felt a lump in their breast or armpit, but these lumps are usually found in doing regular activities such as getting dressed or bathing. Although there are different opinions on this, some still find it helpful as it also helps women learn about the normalities of their breasts in case there is a change. Some changes that can be found are lumps in the breast or armpit, dimpling of the skin or irritation, or foreign discharge from the nipple. This method is most useful if you are also still attending yearly mammogram appointments and physical exams with your doctor. Self-exams should not be the only method of detection you participate in. 

There are many risks that increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, but there are also ways to prevent and detect it early. It is very important to attend yearly appointments with your physician to catch the cancer if it's already developing or to halt progression. Becoming familiar with not only the risk factors and preventative measures, but also the signs and symptoms of the early stages can help you or a loved one be aware of the risk of developing breast cancer. Staying informed with up-to-date information on not only breast cancer, as well as other health and safety news, could help you or a loved one. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

Darian Carrow
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