Breast cancer ribbon

When October rolls around, many are thinking about Halloween and the upcoming holiday season! However, the month also marks a very important awareness month – breast cancer. Even though plenty of people know October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they’re still overlooking the risk factors!

So we want to cover what you need to know about this cancer, the risk factors, and the steps you can be taking to make yourself more aware of your health in relation to it.


What Do You Need to Know About Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is, after skin cancer, the most common cancer found in women in the United States. There are a few different types of breast cancer, and it can occur in men, too, but it’s important to know the signs:

  • An inverted nipple that occurred recently
  • Breast lump
  • Thickening of breast tissue
  • Peeling, flaking, or scaling
  • Redness and/or irritation
  • Changes in the appearance of the breast, including size and shape
  • Dimpling, pitting, or other skin changes
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Nipple discharge (not milk)

Certain medical conditions, such as breast cysts, can mimic breast cancer, but if you notice any of the symptoms above, it’s important to schedule an appointment with a doctor right away. Your chances of beating cancer increase substantially the earlier it’s uncovered.


How Can You Be More Aware During Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Know Your Risk Factors

There are a few different risk factors of breast cancer you should note. They include


As you age, your chances of some cancers can increase. That includes breast cancer. In fact, most are actually diagnosed after the individual is 50 years old.

Your age during your first menstrual period and when you started menopause can also influence your chances of breast cancer. For those who had their first period before  12 years and/or started menopause after 55, hormones can play a role. In addition, reproductive history can increase your susceptibility, including having the first pregnancy after 30 years.


Genetics and a family history can influence your chances of developing breast cancer, but it’s important to note, this only accounts for 10% of all breast cancers. In regards to your genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2 can mean you’re at higher risk of both ovarian and breast cancers. Because the genetic link to breast cancer is actually a small one, just because your mother or grandmother didn’t have breast cancer does not mean you’re in the clear. Most women who are diagnosed have no hereditary connection.

If you had breast cancer before, your chances of developing it a second time also increase.

Exposure to Drugs or Radiation Therapy

For individuals who have been exposed to radiation therapy before they were 30 years old or diethylstilbestrol (DES), the risk of breast cancer is higher. DES was given to some pregnant women between 1940 and 1971.

Certain Breast Types

Certain breast types, including dense breasts, can make it more difficult to detect breast cancer in addition to increasing chances of developing the disease. Dense breasts in particular have more connective tissue compared to fatty tissue, so doctors may not always detect cancer on the mammogram.


Woman receiving mammogram

How Can You Protect Yourself From Breast Cancer?

Although the risk factors listed above are unavoidable, there are steps you can take to lower your chances of getting breast cancer or be diagnosed early.

Make Lifestyle Changes

A risk factor not mentioned above is “poor lifestyle choices.” Things like lack of exercise, being overweight, and drinking too much alcohol can all affect your risk of developing breast cancer. However, making lifestyle changes as soon as possible can absolutely lower your risk of breast cancer.

Get Screened

If you’re at high risk for breast cancer, such as a family history, or you’re over the age of 40, it’s important to at least start thinking about a mammogram. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that those between 50 and 74 years old should be screened every year. Your gynecologists will likely recommend screening at 40, though it may not be yearly. Most experts agree that annual screening is best between 50-74.

In addition to regular visits with your gynecologist and clinical breast exams, I do recommend monthly self breast exams. Not all experts agree with this due to the concern you may find something benign and have unnecessary testing. I believe it is best to be familiar with your breasts’ normal architecture so that you are also aware when something changes.

Talk to Your Doctor

Talking to your doctor and gynecologist about breast cancer, your risks, and preventative measures is always a good idea. If you have a family history of the disease, they may suggest genetic testing or earlier screening. They can also give you recommendations on hormone replacement therapy, lowering your estrogen, and other ways of reducing your risk.

Breast cancer can be scary, but taking steps now can help you be more aware of the disease and even could help save your life. It’s always recommended that you know your risk factors, get screened on schedule, and talk to your doctor right away about any health changes or concerns.

Are you concerned about your risk of breast cancer? It’s worth a conversation. Schedule an appointment with your trusted health care provider to discuss your risks.