Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women, and it is the leading cause of death among cancers for women, too. It accounts for about 30 percent of cancer among all women. The American Cancer Society says there is a one-in-eight chance that a woman will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, but the ACS is more hopeful than they are pessimistic, noting that also means there’s a seven-in-eight chance a woman won’t develop it.
In 2018 alone, more than 250,000 new cases of “invasive” breast cancer were diagnosed. “Invasive” breast cancer, as opposed to non-invasive, is defined as cancer that grows into the tissue of the breast as opposed to being located around the milk ducts of the breasts. Most forms of breast cancer are invasive, and more than half of breast cancer diagnoses happen among women aged 65 and over.
As a result of these massive diagnoses, the ACS predicts that more than 40,000 women will die from breast cancer in 2018. A recent study also revealed that women who are over 65 and diagnosed with breast cancer have a higher mortality rate than those under 65.
Because of its prevalence among elderly women, it’s vital to understand how to identify breast cancer, get screened for it, and treat it.
Signs and symptoms
Identifying breast cancer at its earliest possible stage is vital, so you need to know the symptoms. The most common signs of breast cancer include:
A small lump on the breast
This is the most prominent and common sign of breast cancer. The lump may be extremely small, such as the size of a coin, or even bigger. The mass is typically not painful, but there may be tenderness around it. If there is a small lump present, have it checked by a healthcare professional immediately.
The breast(s) may swell, with or without pain.
Your nipple may turn inward from its normal outward position.
You may feel general soreness or pain in one or both breasts.
One or both breasts may discharge fluid (other than breast milk).
Collar bone swelling
The ACS notes that tissue near your shoulder and collarbone may begin to swell due to the presence of breast cancer before it starts to show.
If you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms, you should get screened as soon as possible. The screening process for breast cancer is known as a mammogram. It is essentially an X-ray of the breast area and will help identify masses or tumors that haven’t shown on the surface yet.
Most breast cancer develops and is diagnosed in people over the age of 50, but doctors recommend that you receive yearly mammograms starting at 45—or sometimes even before.
You are equally as important in the screening process as your doctor is, though. Typically these mammograms takes place once a year, so there is plenty of time between doctors visits for cancers to develop and appear on your breasts. It’s important to know how your breasts typically feel, in addition to the symptoms and signs of breast cancer to know if something is off.
There is a range of treatment options for breast cancer depending on its invasiveness and its stage. Let’s look at some of the main treatment options:
This is the most common option for breast cancer that is still localized in the breast. There are two main forms of breast cancer surgery: breast-conserving surgery, which aims to keep the part of the non-affected breast untouched; and a mastectomy, which is the complete removal of the breast. Which surgery you get depends on how much the cancer has spread.
If the cancer is still localized in the breast, radiation therapy—which targets a very specific grouping of cells—is a prefered option. It’s relatively non-invasive, and it may be used after surgery to help reduce the risk of cancer reappearing.
Used both before and after surgery, chemotherapy aims to rid the body of the cancer if it has spread beyond the breast. Pre-surgery, the ACS points out, chemotherapy is used to try and reduce the size of the tumor so it’s easier to take out during surgery. Chemo is used after surgery to help clear up any cancer cells that may still be present.