October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The annual focus began in 1985 in a collaborative effort between the American Cancer Society and AstraZeneca, known for anti-cancer medications. In the nearly 40 years since its inception, awareness of breast cancer symptoms has grown and thrived, helping more women take part in screenings1 and increasing monetary support for breast cancer research.
In the US, more than 338,000 women (and men) will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Most cases pop up in a woman’s mid 50s to early 60s, although 9% of cases occur in women 45 or younger.2 Early detection is the best way to increase your chance of survival. According to the American Cancer Society, when breast cancer is detected early, the 5-year relative survival rate is 99%.3
From a young age, women are encouraged to conduct breast self-exams to find lumps that can lead to early detection of breast cancer. A breast self-exam includes:
- Looking at your breasts in the mirror—once with your arms down and once with them up—and looking for unusual change in shape or size, dimpling or puckering, nipple changes, redness, rash, or swelling.
- Using your fingertips and gently pressing on your breast tissue from the top to bottom of your breast using circular motions, both laying down and standing up.
But lumps are only one way to screen for breast cancer. In fact, some subtle breast cancer symptoms can help detect the disease before you can even feel a lump. Some of these subtle breast cancer symptoms are:
- Bloody nipple discharge. Bloody nipples may be a result of tight clothing or benign fluid build-up, but it’s worth discussing with your doctor.
- Nipple changes. Look for dimpled, flattened, or inverted nipples. It’s not uncommon to be born with inverted or flat nipples, but if it happens later in life—it is a cause for concern to discuss with your doctor.
- Tender, swollen breasts. Pregnancy, hormonal changes, and breastfeeding can be the culprit, but if you notice unusually warm, discolored, dimpled, and painfully tender breasts, it could be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer.4
- Lumps under your arm or collarbone. Easily missed in breast self-exams, these lumps can signify cancer in your lymph nodes.
- Itchy or flaky nipples.
If you experience any of these subtle breast cancer symptoms, make an appointment right away with your physician and schedule a mammogram to determine if these changes are a sign of something significant.
Healthy Living for Women
Breast cancer is top of mind in October thanks to the plethora of pink products on the shelves, but it’s not the only health concern women face. Some of the top issues are heart disease—the number one cause of death for women—stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and sexual and reproductive health. Mental health concerns, including anxiety and depression, ADHD, PTSD, OCD, occur in one in 5 women in the US. Often, mental and physical wellness is linked.
Staying on top of health with regular checkups, exercise, balanced diet with nutritious foods (heavy on the fruits and veggies, please!) can go a long way to preventing some of these health concerns. Practicing mindfulness and reducing stress positively influence mental health, but engaging with a mental health professional to get appropriate care is essential for women who have symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Prevention is the best cure. We hope this information and resources empower women to take charge of their healthcare for a long, healthy life.
Resources for Breast Cancer and Women’s Health
- How to conduct a breast self-exam – Breastcancer.org
- How Breast Cancer can Affect Mental Health – Breastcancer.org
- Cancer screening guidelines – American Cancer Society
- Breast cancer risk assessment – American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- Healthy Living for Women – American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- Working with a Mental Health Condition – Office on Women’s Health