October is breast cancer awareness month across Canada. Did you know that in the 14th century breast cancer was known as the nun’s disease? Back then doctors noticed a high correlation between celibacy and breast cancer. We no longer make this association.
One in nine women in Canada will develop breast cancer. It’s 100x more common in women than men. The highest incidence of breast cancer occurs in women over 55, which may come as a surprise to some. The good news is the five year survival rate is over 90%, if the cancer is caught in its early stages. The breast cancer death rate has fallen by over 40% since 1986, which is an impressive statistic.
It’s not clear what causes breast cancer like any other cancer. Researchers have identified hormonal, lifestyle and environmental factors that may increase your risk of breast cancer. However, many people who have no risk factors develop the disease, and many with all risk factors, don’t. It’s likely that a combination of environmental and genetic factors are at play.
Being a woman, getting older, a family history of breast cancer, exposure to radiation, never having been pregnant, menstruation starting before age 12, menopause starting after age 55, having children at an older age and postmenopausal hormone therapy have all been identified as risk factors.
Symptoms may include a breast lump, discharge from the nipples, change in size or shape of the breast and changes to the skin over the breast and nipple.
Making some simple changes may help reduce your risk of breast cancer. Get a mammogram annually, especially if you are over 50. Do regular breast self-examinations and make sure you schedule an annual check-up with your doctor.
Try to exercise most days of the week and maintain a healthy weight. Choose to eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and fish. Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy. If you need it, choose the lowest dose for the shortest time possible.