Woman with Pink Ribbon

Grow Pink, Grow Healthy: What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in the United States. Even though it’s more common among Caucasian and African American women, it’s the leading cancer killer among Latinas. Here’s what you need to know so you can cut your breast cancer risks.

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast Cancer X-Ray

Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the breast grow out of control, forming a lump or a tumor. Once a mass is detected, a test called a biopsy is performed to tell if the mass is malignant (cancerous) or benign (not cancerous).

If the mass is benign, you’re out of the danger zone. If the cells are cancerous, they can spread to other parts of the body. Your doctors will help you make the best treatment decisions so you can start as soon as possible.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Group of Woman

Your lifestyle, along with many other factors, can increase your risk of breast cancer:

  • Being physically inactive
  • Beginning menopause at a late age
  • Being overweight, particularly after menopause
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Getting older
  • Having a genetic condition, such as certain mutations in your BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • Not having children or having your first child later in life
  • Personal history of breast cancer or certain benign breast diseases
  • Previous radiation therapy to the breast or chest
  • Starting your first menstrual period at an early age
  • Using hormone replacement therapy for a long time
  • Using oral contraceptives

What Are the Symptoms?

Woman with Cancer

In the early stages, the tumor may be too small to feel and does not cause any symptoms. As it grows, you may experience:

  • A new lump in the breast or a lump that has changed
  • A change in the shape or size of the breast
  • Pain in the nipple or breast that doesn’t go away
  • Swollen, red, or flaky skin on the breast
  • Nipple becomes tender or turns inward
  • Nipple leaks blood or non-milk fluid

Talk to your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms.

When and How to Get Tested

Doctor Doing a Mammography of Her Patient

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, most women should start routine screenings for breast cancer at the age of 50 and continue once every two years until age 74, unless your doctor recommends otherwise. The screening is done with a mammogram, which takes digital images of the breast. It is the best and most reliable way to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before symptoms occur.

Catching it early is important – if cancer is caught in early stages and hasn’t spread to any other part of the body, there’s a 99% survival rate. So, get tested regularly to give yourself your best chance!

What About Self-Exams and Genetic Testing?

You may have heard about these methods – one very old-fashioned, the other high-tech – as ways to help identify cancer early, and you may be wondering if they’re right for you.

Breast self-exams used to be a common recommendation for women, but there has been some debate among doctors if these exams are really beneficial. Some doctors recommend that instead of self-examinations, women learn breast awareness: becoming familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel. If you look at the “What Are the Symptoms?” section earlier in this post, you’ll get a good idea for what to be aware of.

Genetic tests are another method that might not be conclusive for everyone. Genetic tests that look for mutations in certain genes can’t tell you if you have cancer; they only tell you how likely you might be to develop it at some point in your life. Even with a positive test result, you may never develop breast cancer at all. Genetic tests are usually only offered to women with a family history of breast cancer. You can still take the test, but it would not be covered by health insurance and could be quite expensive.

The bottom line is, if you are interested in either of these tests, your primary method of defense should still be working with your doctor and following their recommendations for screenings.

Take Action

Women Smiling and Running

No matter your age, you can help minimize your risk for breast cancer with a few simple healthy lifestyle changes.

  • Drink water regularly
  • Eat fresh and nutritious foods
  • Exercise regularly: in fact, if you’ve ever thought about doing an awareness walk, now is the time and AltaMed can help. Even beyond raising funds and awareness for the cause, participating in a walk or fun-run can help you launch your own set of cancer-fighting habits.
  • Get tested today
  • Keep stress levels as low as possible
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Maintain a healthy weight

We’re Here for You, Now More Than Ever

Grow Pink Graphic

Don’t let the fear of going out, stop you from coming in. At AltaMed, we want to ensure that our patients have the proper care and education to take charge of your health. Talk to your doctor about preventive care screenings, like mammograms. It is critical to your overall good health — so don’t wait.

Get started with AltaMed

See how AltaMed Health Services can help your family grow healthy.

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Breast Cancer Month

4 Ways to Support a Loved One with Breast Cancer

We want to do everything we can to be there for loved ones, especially during a challenging time like battling breast cancer. They’ll need emotional support while experiencing possible side effects from treatment along with feelings of hopelessness, anger, and fear throughout this process.

The good news is that they have you to help them during this time. Here are 4 ways you can support them through diagnosis, treatment, and recovery:

1. Listen

Lady With Breast Cancer Being Supported

Your loved one may be overwhelmed with emotions. This is their diagnosis and their journey – what you can do is provide a safe space so they can talk freely about it.

They may not always feel comfortable enough to share their feelings and may avoid the topic. “Listen” to their body language and behavior: they may be asking for more help or some space. Either way, let them know they are not alone.

2. Help Them Feel Good

Two Girls Enjoying Spa

Reassure your loved one they are worthy of a good time. Take them out for a manicure, go for a soothing massage, dine at their favorite restaurant, go to a concert, or join a dance class if they’re up for it. You can even stay indoors and have a cooking party, host a spa day at home, or watch a comedy.

Make it an open-ended invite, so they can pick the best time for them. Help them feel normal while you encourage them to maintain a positive outlook.

3. Be a Helping Hand

Women Holding Hands

Step on up! Your loved one will probably appreciate a little help with their day-to-day duties. Offer to take care of the common errands on their to-do list like buying groceries, helping clean their house, or picking up their prescriptions.

Even during the best of times, taking care of a family can be a lot of work! Offer to help with their children: helping out with homework or taking them to their sports practices.

It’s hard for people to accept help from others, especially when it comes to taking care of their family. Let them know they don’t have to face this alone and its okay to accept help. That’s what friends are for!

4. Gather a Support Team

Teens Hugging Eachother

A team full of love and support is the ultimate gift. Build the greatest support team of family, friends, and even coworkers! Everyone can work together to help make meals, take turns visiting, or drive them to appointments.

Learn more about breast cancer to understand a little bit more about what your friend or loved one is going through. You have the power to make a difference. Let them know they are loved and appreciated just by being themselves.

AltaMed woman looking in the mirror

The Value of Preventive Cancer Screenings for Early Detection

If you’re interested in improving your health and taking care of your body, you may already be getting more fit and active, making better choices about your diet, and seeing your doctor for regular checkups. One of the best ways to protect your good health is to follow any recommendations from your doctor for preventive cancer screening tests. 

Why Should I Have Cancer Screenings?

Doctor Doing a Mammography Scan

Cancer screenings help find cancer early, sometimes even before there are symptoms, when it may be easier to treat or cure.

Cancer tests may involve:

  • Physical exams
  • Lab tests (such as blood or urine samples)
  • Imaging procedures (such as MRIs or ultrasounds)
  • Genetic tests

It is important to remember that being referred for a test doesn’t mean that your doctor believes that you have cancer. The tests often help rule out cancer as a possibility. 

When Will My Doctor Recommend Screenings?

Woman on a Doctor's Appointment

Even if you have no symptoms, preventive cancer screenings are recommended if you are at risk for certain cancers.

This may mean that you have:

  • A family history
  • A personal history
  • Certain previously identified genetic signs
  • Previous exposure to cancer-causing substances either through smoking or in your workplace
  • Developed a blood clot without a clear reason

Doctors are also more likely to recommend screenings for older patients, but if you have more risk factors, your doctor may suggest screenings at a younger age than usual.

Types of Screenings

Woman With Doctor in Medical Examination

You doctor may recommend one or more of the following screenings: 

  •  Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy screenings look for early signs of colorectal cancer and are usually performed on people aged 50-75.
  • An X-ray called a low-dose helical computed tomography (LDCT) is used to screen for lung cancer in those between the ages of 55 – 74 who have a history of heavy smoking.
  • Mammograms screen for breast cancer and have been shown to reduce deaths from the disease for women aged 40-74. 
  • Pap & HPV testing are used for early detection and treatment of cervical cancer. Testing typically begins at 21 and ends at 65, provided the woman is at normal risk.

Other screenings outlined by the National Cancer Institute are used to look for:

  • Liver disease (blood test)
  • Genetic mutations that lead to breast cancer (breast MRI)
  • Ovarian cancer (blood test and ultrasound)
  • Abnormalities leading to skin cancer (skin exams)
  • Prostate cancer (blood test)

Early Detection is Key

Woman at Medical Exam

Early detection is the number one goal of these screenings. By finding any abnormalities at their earliest stage, you can reduce the chance of the cancer spreading, and improve the chances of treating or even curing it. 

The best way to stay healthy and make sure you are getting the screenings you need is to get regular health checkups. Depending on your personal and family health histories, your doctor may recommend additional screenings for you.

Contact AltaMed for more information about the health screenings you need at (888) 499-9303

Grow Pink, Grow Healthy: What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer