Breast cancer: being more informed to better detect it

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women. Would you know how to detect it early if you were affected by it?

Tumour or cancer?

The human body consists of billions of cells that, in a normal situation, are produced and then die based on an ongoing process that happens in an organized fashion. This process sometimes unfolds inappropriately in one area of the body, leading to the growth of a lump called a tumour. Tumours can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Therefore, breast cancer is the result of the proliferation of these types of cells within the breast. It may be more or less advanced or extensive. Sometimes, it travels to other organs or tissue; this is called metastases.

Fortunately, it is often possible to eliminate breast cancer owing to surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

The risk factors

Certain factors increase the risk of having breast cancer. Some of them, such as those related to heredity, cannot be modified. Other factors, such as alcohol consumption, obesity, inactivity, smoking and taking oral contraception or hormone replacement therapy, can be modified.

Speak to a healthcare professional to learn how to minimize your risks of developing breast cancer.

Symptoms to assess

In order to detect breast cancer early, watch out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • breast pain or sensitivity
  • nodule or lump detectable to the touch
  • retraction of the skin on the breast or nipple
  • nipple discharge
  • redness, swelling or warmth in or on the breast
  • changes in the size or shape of the breast
  • swelling of the glands under the armpit

It is important to point out that the disease may still be present even if none of these signs or symptoms are observed.

Breast cancer screening

The fight against breast cancer relies above all on screening. Measures such as breast awareness, clinical exams and mammograms promote early detection of cancer and prompt treatment.

Breast awareness

In order to detect any anomalies, it is advisable to learn how your breasts usually feel. To do this, there is no specific technique to be used by all. Breast awareness and regular examination will allow you to familiarize yourself with their characteristics and to detect any possible changes.

Of course, it is normal for breasts to change in the course of a woman’s lifetime, but certain signs can indicate that something is wrong.

Here are a few tips:

  • Observe your breasts regularly. Doing so in front of a mirror may be helpful.
  • Palpate your breasts whenever you have the time; frequency is not very important as long as you do it periodically.
  • Ask your partner to let you know about any changes or unusual signs.
  • If there is a change or unusual sign, see your doctor promptly.

Every woman should learn about breast awareness whatever her age, health or lifestyle.

Clinical breast exam

It is advisable to see a healthcare professional, such as a family doctor, gynecologist or qualified nurse at least every two years. During such a visit, a healthcare professional can perform a clinical breast exam. This consists of a visual and in-depth tactile exam which allows them to check for the presence of anomalies. Be sure to speak to your health professional about any recent changes in your health (including breast health).

A mammogram

A mammogram is the best way to screen for breast cancer. It consists of an x-ray exam of the breasts that allows the detection of any small lesions that may not be detectable to the touch. It is recommended that the following people to have a mammogram:

  • women between the ages of 50 and 74 (every two years)
  • younger women who have a higher risk of breast cancer, and
  • women of all ages for whom anomalies have been observed, suggesting the presence of breast cancer

Women who are 75 years old or older should speak to their doctor about the best screening methods available to them.

Early detection of breast cancer will allow you to take control of your health and reduce the impact of the disease on your life. Being vigilant is certainly your best strategy!

Healthcare professionals can provide additional information about the elements that can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Don’t hesitate to speak with them, as they can provide advice on how to decrease the risk.

Speak to your pharmacist for additional information about breast cancer.

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Breast cancer: being more informed to better detect it

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women. Would you know how to detect it early if you were affected by it?
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