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Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast divide and grow without their normal control. All women – and some men – are at risk for breast cancer. This risk increases with age. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Now is the time to know what to look for and what you need to do to take control of your health.

Three women wearing breast cancer awareness pink clothing holding hands and cheering

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Know the facts

Several factors contribute to your risk of breast cancer. Every person is different. The main factors include being a woman and getting older. Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older. Not counting some kinds of skin cancer, breast cancer in the United States is the most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity.

Learn the symptoms

Symptoms of breast cancer are different for everyone. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all. But it’s important to know what to look for. Some warning signs of breast cancer include:

  • A new lump in the breast or underarm
  • Pain in any area of the breast
  • Swelling of part of the breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
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Talk to your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms. These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. Your doctor will be able to tell you.
 

Get screened

Screenings cannot prevent breast cancer. But they can help find it early when treatment is most effective. There are a variety of screenings available, the most common being an x-ray of the breast called a mammography. Typically, women ages 40-44 have the choice to start yearly screenings. Women ages 45-54 should get a mammogram each year. And women ages 55 and older can continue with yearly screenings or every two years.

Your risk factors may determine which screening to have and how often. Talk with your doctor about your risk and the best plan for you.

How to help others

Do you know someone with breast cancer? Being a caregiver or friend during a cancer battle can be difficult. You may not know what to say or do. Here are some tips on how to help:

  • Maintain open communication
  • Be patient and flexible with your schedule
  • Organize a system of rides or tasks – for appointments, meals, etc.
  • Create a support network with family and friends
  • Participate in a walk to raise money for a cure

Sources:

  • American Cancer Society
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • NIH National Cancer Institute
  • Susan G. Komen
  •  

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