October starts and so does the events for the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the campaign that aims to warn women and society in general about the importance of prevention and early diagnosis of breast cancer, the most common type of the disease among women, in Brazil and in the world, and, more recently, on cervical cancer.
The movement emerged in the 1990s in the United States. It is currently promoted in several other countries, including Brazil. Health Connections Portal has compiled important facts and numbers regarding the disease that are worth keeping in mind.
The causes for breast cancer are diverse. Age is an important risk factor (about four out of five cases occur after 50 years of age). According to the Brazilian Cancer Institute [Instituto Nacional do Câncer –INCA], however, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and breast cancer in men, especially before the age of 50, are also issues that require attention, as well as factors related to women's reproductive and hormonal history.
Detection of the disease in its early stages, in most cases, increases the chances of treatment and cure. The Brazilian Ministry of Health recommends that women aged 50-69 should have a screening mammogram (when there are no signs or symptoms) every two years (doctors often indicate that the examination should become routine after 40 years age). Mammograms help to spot early cancer development and allow for a less aggressive treatment. The public healthcare system in Brazil offers mammogram screening for women of all ages, when there is a medical indication.
In addition, according to INCA, all women, regardless of age, can and should know their own body, to be able to spot abnormalities in their breasts. Thus, self-examination is essential, without a specific technique, focused on detecting small breast abnormalities, and should be practiced monthly between the 7th and 10th day counted from the 1st day of the menstrual cycle. Women who do not menstruate should choose a day of the month.
To examine the breasts, one should feel them with their hands. Then one should press the nipples gently and check for the release of secretion. After examining the breasts, one should also palpate the entire armpit area under the arms.
The main signs and symptoms of breast cancer are:
Fixed lumps (nodules), hard and usually painless;
Skin of the breast looking reddish, retracted or resembling an orange peel;
Changes in the nipple;
Small nodules in the region under the arms (armpits) or in the neck;
Spontaneous discharge of nipple fluid.
It is worth mentioning that the self-examination does not replace traditional clinical exams.
Women should immediately seek a diagnostic evaluation service upon identifying persistent breast changes.
Women, take care!