By April N. Kapu, DNP, APRN, ACNP- BC, FAANP, FCCM, FAAN
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time when our nation comes together to honor survivors, remember loved ones lost to breast cancer and pledge our support and commitment to continue the fight to stop breast cancer.
In the United States, approximately 255,000 women and 2,300 men receive a new breast cancer diagnosis each year, with more than 3.6 million total people living with the disease. Breast cancer, by definition, occurs when cells in the breast grow out of control, and the type of breast cancer depends on which cells within the breast become cancerous.
Though these statistics seem daunting, not everyone has the same set of risk factors. Although risk factors like age and family history aren’t controllable, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer:
- Exercise regularly.
- Limit alcohol intake.
- Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy.
In addition to adopting a healthy lifestyle, breast cancer screening is an important step you can take to help find breast cancer in its early stages when it is easier to treat. Recommended screening techniques include:
Performing a monthly self-examination to identify changes to the breast that may be signs of infection or breast cancer allows for early detection and improves chances of survival.
- Clinical exams.
You don’t need to wait for symptoms to emerge before taking steps to protect yourself; an annual exam by your health care provider is recommended.
Speak with your nurse practitioner (NP) or other health care provider to determine when it is appropriate to begin scheduling an annual mammogram.
Mammograms and other breast cancer screenings are essential tools for detection, but there are also symptoms you may notice that can be warning signs of breast cancer. When doing self-examinations before or between professional screenings, talk to your NP or another health care provider if you notice any of the following:
- Lump in your breast or armpit.
- Swelling or thickening in a part of your breast.
- Irritation or dimpling in the skin of your breast.
- Inflammation, flaky skin, pulling or pain in your nipple area.
- Discharge other than breast milk coming from your nipple.
- Change in the size or shape of your breast.
- Pain in your breast.
Breast cancer impacts many, but prevention works! Countless people have put off preventative care or have been unable to secure care for symptoms of various ailments during the pandemic. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, please get your health care screenings back on track. Consider an NP as your partner in health. Together, we can find breast cancer and fight it.