I try to publish about breast cancer almost every year around October. My mission here is simple, to provide up-to-date and easy-to-understand information to my readers. This year, I have reached out to health care professionals, Liia and Sumant Ramachandra. Sumant Ramachandra, M.D., Ph.D. is an internationally renowned physician, scientist, and business leader who has developed therapies across multiple diseases, including breast cancer.
I also asked my Instagram friends if they had any questions about breast cancer. And the most common questions were these:
- What are the symptoms?
- How do they differ from typical PMS symptoms, like pain, lumpy feeling around breasts?
- When should a woman start checking for breast cancer? And how frequently should they check for it?
- What is a Mammogram? Can we take this test even if we do not have any symptoms?
- Do you have any advice on how to lead a healthy life to prevent breast cancer?
I loved the questions, thanks to Instagram sisters! And here’s what the experts have to say….keep on reading!
Breast Cancer Symptoms:
Different people have different and varied symptoms. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all, so we can not only count on symptoms. Nonetheless, some warning signs are:
- New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast.
It is important to keep in mind that these symptoms can happen with other conditions that are not cancer. However, since it is difficult to distinguish some of these signs and symptoms from premenstrual syndrome (PMS), one should know the look and feel of the breast during the menstrual cycles and if there are any concerns or deviations from the normal, these symptoms should prompt a consultation with your healthcare professional.
Healthy Lifestyle Practices:
About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 13%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. However, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the impact of this lifetime risk can be reduced and mitigated by the following ways of leading a healthy life:
- Keep a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Don’t drink alcohol, or limit alcoholic drinks.
- If you are taking, or have been told to take, hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives (birth control pills), ask your doctor about the risks and find out if it is right for you.
- Breastfeed your children, if possible.
- If you have a family history of breast cancer or inherited changes in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, talk to your doctor about other ways to lower your risk.
Screening for Breast Cancer:
Despite incorporating some or all of these approaches, there is continued risk in many women, especially if there is a known family history of breast cancer. So, knowing how and when to screen for breast cancer is critical. But before going for the screening you should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to screening. Based on the screening guidelines, all women should implement the following:
- While breast self-exams or a clinical breast exam (CBE) by a health professional are no longer recommended, one should know how your breast tissue looks and feels. Any changes to the breast should prompt a visit to your healthcare professional for follow-up.
- Women ages 40 to 44 should start annual screening with mammograms, if they wish to do so.
- Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
- Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health.
- Women with known increased risk due to a first-degree relative with breast cancer, a known gene mutation associated with breast cancer or a previous history of breast cancer; should follow the guidance of their healthcare provider on the needed screening criteria.
To read about breast cancer survivor stories, check out the breast cancer archive.
Breast Cancer and Mammograms:
Mammograms are essentially specialized x-rays of the breast. It is used to look for early signs of breast cancer. As noted above, because mammograms are the best screening tool available today for breast cancer, it is important to follow the guidelines of when to start screening regardless of the lack of signs and symptoms.
Remember that the science behind prevention, early detection through screening, and treatment approaches to breast cancer continue to evolve. Therefore, it is essential to discuss the guidelines with your healthcare provider on a routine basis.
About Liia and Sumant Ramachandra:
Liia Ramachandra, Pharm.D., Ph.D. is a serial entrepreneur and “liberated healthcare executive” who has focused her education, career and start-ups in the healthcare fields and industries with the mission to improve the lives of millions living with chronic illnesses.
Sumant Ramachandra, M.D., Ph.D. is an internationally renowned physician, scientist, and business leader who has developed therapies across multiple diseases, including breast cancer.
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