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There is an overwhelming amount of information and advice regarding breast cancer. For many women, it’s difficult to know where to start. How to tell if you are at an elevated risk, when to start getting regular mammograms, what you can do to stay healthy — these are all questions that may linger in the back of your mind while you navigate your health. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Advanced Aesthetics team acknowledges women everywhere who struggle with the complexities of their bodies. We can help you learn more about the concerns you may have and the risks you may be facing.
In recent years, the genetic basis of breast cancer has been increasingly brought to light — most women are now aware that if someone who shares their genes has had breast cancer, it might mean that they are genetically predisposed to develop the disease as well. If you have a relative who has been diagnosed, you have likely worried about whether or not you are at a higher risk. But the National Breast Cancer Foundation notes that not everyone with a diagnosed relative needs to worry. Some genetic links are stronger than others, and not all breast cancer is genetic.
If you have a first-degree relative (a mother or sister) or several second-degree relatives (aunts, cousins or grandmothers) with breast cancer, you may be statistically placed in a higher risk group. This is not a prediction of whether or not you will develop breast cancer — in fact, only about 10 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer report a family history of the disease. However, you should be vigilant: you should inform your doctor of your history, and consider starting yearly screenings at 30 instead of 40. Your doctor can help you determine how closely you should monitor your breast health in the coming years.
If you have a single second-degree relative who has been diagnosed with breast cancer or genetics has been ruled out in your first-degree relative’s breast cancer, it is unlikely to change your risk factor. You should make sure your healthcare provider is aware of your family history, and they will help you find the best course of action.
Breast cancer has a higher incidence in women over the age of 50. As you age, you grow more susceptible to a host of diseases, and it’s difficult to know the best ways to prevent yourself from falling ill or whether past habits mean you need to be more careful. Some kinds of breast cancer are brought on by a heightened sensitivity to estrogen, a hormone that is abundant in the female body. Certain health factors like weight, hormonal birth control use, menopause and even alcohol consumption can change the way your body produces and processes estrogen, sometimes increasing the risk of developing breast cancer.
If you are overweight or obese, are or were a smoker or heavy drinker, have a history of taking estrogen-based medications or started menopause after age 55, you should be sure to work more closely with your doctor to monitor your risks and your health. It is always a good idea to maintain a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise and avoid smoking or excessive alcohol use. Practicing healthy habits like these can lower your risk of many diseases, including breast cancer. Also be sure to schedule regular checkups with your healthcare provider, and make sure you are following their recommendations for annual breast cancer screenings.
If your doctor has determined that you are not at a heightened risk of developing breast cancer, you can likely relax a bit more than someone with a risky family or health history. Of course, it’s important for everyone to follow good health practices like eating well and exercising. But if you are already doing what you can to live a healthy lifestyle and monitor your risk for cancer, there is likely not much more you can do. Your doctor should be your main point of contact for any questions and concerns that are out of the ordinary.
Heeding your body’s warning signs is the best way to find breast cancer early or reassess your risk. Most people know to watch out for the stereotypical lump — though this isn’t the only indicator to watch for, and not every lump is a cause for concern. Topical changes like excessive dryness or redness, unusual aches and pains or a noticeable change of the nipple or areola could also be your body telling you that something is wrong. Finding breast cancer in its early stages can make a major difference in your treatment options and outcomes — when breast cancer is detected before it spreads, the average survival rate is 99 percent. Familiarize yourself with your breasts so you will have a keen sense of when things aren’t right.
If you notice something about your breasts that feels significantly different or off, talk to your doctor right away even if you don’t know if it’s a “symptom” of breast cancer. The keys to knowing the difference between passing irritation and a more serious concern are severity and persistence. If whatever difference you notice is very large or very painful, or if it lasts more than a week or two, it’s likely time to bring it up with a healthcare professional. Additionally, if you identified a persistent lump that was biopsied but found to be benign, this could increase your risk of developing a cancerous mass in the future. Your doctor will be able to tell you if your benign lump means you need to reevaluate your current screening schedule.
Beyond potentially raising your risk, a benign lump does not need to be a source of worry. Benign means non-cancerous, so you can rest assured that your lump does not equal a diagnosis. As for other changes to your breasts, again, persistence and severity are key. If the source of your concern is limited in size or scope or if it goes away relatively quickly, it’s likely that it was just a rash, bruise or localized swelling and isn’t an indicator of anything more serious. However, if you know you are at a higher risk or if it would ease your mind, you should feel free to bring it up with your doctor anyway.
A positive diagnosis of breast cancer is one of the last things any woman wants to hear. Yet every year, one in eight women in the United States do receive this news. If you are among them, you should know that breast cancer has a high survival rate (83 percent) and an unparalleled body of research behind it. Diagnoses can be confusing — there are different terms for how far your cancer has progressed, whether it has spread beyond your breasts and how it formed. Talk to your doctor to make sure you understand what your particular diagnosis means and what your treatment options are.
The time for action is immediately after your diagnosis. The sooner you are able to start treatment, the better. Depending on your diagnosis, you likely have a few different options for treatments, and it’s important to make the right decision for you and your health. Know that the physical effects of cancer treatments are temporary; radiation therapy might seem scary, but your cancer-free body can bounce back from the associated weight and hair loss. And, if you need to have a lumpectomy or mastectomy, you’ll also want to consider the possibility of a breast reconstruction surgery.
If you have your diagnosis and treatment plan settled, it’s time to take a deep breath and a step back. Stress can make the situation and your health worse, and you should use any time you have before starting treatments to relax and store your emotional energy for the journey ahead. If you and your healthcare team are doing everything you can to treat your cancer, the best thing you can do is to let go of worries and fears.
At Advanced Aesthetics, we are proud to provide breast reconstruction surgery to breast cancer survivors in Atlanta and the surrounding areas. We admire the women who come through our doors — they are strong and exceptional and deserve to put their cancer behind them with a full breast reconstruction. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer and will need a lumpectomy or mastectomy, call us today at 770-471-4000. You can talk to us to find out if a breast reconstruction at one of our four locations will be the right decision for you.