While October is usually a month of pumpkin orange, and autumn leaves turning fiery shades of red and yellow, it is also that time of year where we are reminded to think pink. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. Most women know that they should perform monthly breast self-exams, feeling for any abnormalities. But did you know that there are other symptoms and risk factors for breast cancer that are often ignored until sometimes it’s too late?
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
- Enlarged Lymph Nodes – an enlarged lymph node under the arm, indicating a change in the lymphatic system, is sometimes a sign of breast cancer.
- Weakness or Fatigue – Generalized fatigue and weakness is a symptom of many types of cancer, so you’ll need to look at it in combination with other symptoms. But any time you feel exhausted without explanation and getting more sleep doesn’t help, you should talk to your doctor.
- Back Pain – It may sound vague, but breast cancer is often diagnosed via back pain, which can occur when a breast tumor presses backward into the chest, or when the cancer spreads to the spine or ribs.
- Alcohol – The use of alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Compared with non-drinkers, women who consume 1 alcoholic drink a day have a very small increase in risk. Those who have 2 to 5 drinks daily have about 1½ times the risk of women who drink no alcohol.
- Obesity/Being Overweight – Being overweight or obese has been found to increase breast cancer risk, especially for women after menopause. Before menopause your ovaries produce most of your estrogen, and fat tissue produces a small amount of estrogen. After menopause (when the ovaries stop making estrogen), most of a woman’s estrogen comes from fat tissue. Having more fat tissue after menopause can increase your chance of getting breast cancer by raising estrogen levels.
- Family History – Breast cancer risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives have this disease. Having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk. Having 2 first-degree relatives increases her risk about 3-fold.
- Having Children – Women who have had no children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher breast cancer risk. Some recent studies suggest that breast-feeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk, especially if breast-feeding is continued for 1½ to 2 years.
- High Bone Density – Some recent studies suggest that post-menopausal women with high bone mineral density are at an increased risk of breast cancer. This may be in part because women with higher estrogen levels tend to have stronger bones.
- Lack of Physical Activity – Women who are physically inactive throughout life may have an increased risk of breast cancer.
Early Detection and Intervention
According to studies, women tend to be more vigilant than men about getting recommended health checkups and cancer screenings. However, younger women, tend to ignore symptoms that could point to cancer. They have this notion that cancer is for older people. And while that is often true, plenty of young people get cancer. Inform the women in your life of the above symptoms and risk factors. Knowing them can be extremely beneficial in detecting breast cancer. And early intervention is key! The sooner you recognize that there is a problem, the sooner you can begin life-saving treatment. Think pink today and every day.