When we talk about breast cancer as a
subject it is generally in terms of an umbrella that covers a wide
range of types of breast cancer. Cancer of the breast is
diagnosed as different types which are dependent upon what part of
the breast is affected. There are cancers of the ducts, the
lobules, the medulla, tubular breast cancer, colloid (mucous) cancer
and inflammatory breast cancer. Some cancers are “in situ”
which means they are simply in that one place and others are
“infiltrating” which means the cancer cells will spread beyond the
point of origin. IDC (Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma) is the
most common type of breast cancer.
Breast cancer occurs when the cells in
the body change and become malignant. It happens to men as
well as women, although the percentage of men who develop breast
cancer is significantly less than that of women.
Each type of breast cancer presents
differently. Some can be seen as in IBC (Inflammatory Breast
Cancer) where the breast swells and turns red. Some affect the
outer appearance of the breast and the nipple where there might be
puckering (like an orange), nipple inversion, nipple discharge or a
change in the shape of the breast.
Most breast cancers cannot be seen,
although some can be felt, especially those that are closer to the
surface of the skin.
This is where knowing your body becomes
important to your awareness and your well being. Every woman
should know the contours of her body and be able to recognize
changes as they occur. Just as we do with moles and changes to
our skin, it is important to be aware of how we feel to the touch
and how we look when viewed in the mirror.
Every young woman who has begun to
menstruate is advised to become familiar with her breasts and to
begin performing breast self exams each month. Is there an age
where it is too young to begin this practice? I don’t believe
so. Breast cancer is manifesting itself in younger women more
than ever before. I have heard of women as young as 16 being
diagnosed. It may be rare, but it does happen. Because
many breast cancers are fed by hormones, it seems prudent to me that
as soon as our hormones begin to surge through our bodies, it is in
our best interest to be aware of the changes than can occur.
Breast self exams done each month help us
to recognize when something feels “different”.
That might be a lump or a swelling or tenderness. If you
notice ANY change, no matter how small or insignificant it seems, it
is best to have it checked by a doctor.
Knowing your body, listening to your
instincts and your inner voice is your best form of offense in any
health situation. Our minds and our physical bodies work
together and do communicate. If we are aware of our bodies and
our cycles, our moods and our overall well being, we know when our
bodies need attention. Listen to that inner voice. Don’t
try and ignore it or talk it down. Be your own best advocate.