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Did you know that after skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in cis women? In fact, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties is here to help you get the facts about this complex disease.

So, Who’s at Risk?

Anyone of any sex or gender can get breast cancer, but there are certain factors that can increase your risk such as:

  • Being a cisgender woman
  • Having inherited mutations to genes (BRCA 1 and BRCA 2) that are related to breast cancer
  • Being over the age of 50
  • Having a blood relative who has had breast or ovarian cancer

Having one or more risk factor does not guarantee you’ll get breast cancer, and some people will get breast cancer without having any of these factors.

Symptoms to Keep an Eye Out For

The most common symptom for breast cancer is a lump in your breast or armpit. It’s important to note that breast tissue is naturally lumpy and changes throughout a person’s lifetime. In additional to breast cancer, there are many things that can cause a lump in the breast area including lipomas, cysts, fibroadenomas, and more. This can make it really confusing to know if a lump is breast cancer or something else. While a majority of breast lumps are benign, if you find a lump or notice another change in your breast, talk to your doctor or nurse as soon as you can. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer, but it’s really important to get checked out.

Other possible signs of breast cancer can include:

  • Swelling in your breast
  • Dimples in the skin of your breast
  • Pain in your breast or nipple
  • Nipples that turn inward instead of sticking out
  • Skin on your breast or nipple that’s discolored, flaky, scaly, or thicker than normal
  • Discharge or blood coming out of your nipple

What’s the Best Way to Check for Symptoms?

You know your breasts best, and the key is knowing what’s normal for you and paying attention to any changes in how your breasts look or feel. While monthly self-exams are no longer recommend, breast self-awareness is. Breast self-awareness looks like starting conversations with blood family members about family history of breast or ovarian cancer so that you know if you may be more likely of developing breast cancer. It also looks like paying attention to breast changes (swelling, lumps, persistent pain, new changes in shape or size), skin changes (redness or discoloration, irritation, thickening, dimpling, or darkening), and nipple changes (discharge, irritation, darkening, dimpling, change in color or shape). Get to know what your breasts look and feel like so you can let your care team know if you find a lump or notice anything out of the ordinary.

What About Breast Exams?

The idea of cancer can be scary, but like with most diseases, the sooner you know your diagnosis, the sooner you can start treatment. If you’re between the ages of 25-39, it’s recommended to get a breast exam from your doctor every one to three years. After you turn 40, you should be getting a breast exam once a year and a mammogram every one to two years. At this visit, your doctor will check your breasts for any possible signs of breast cancer or breast problems. They’ll look at both of your breasts to see the shape, size, and texture of your skin, and feel your breasts, nipples, and armpits with the tips of their fingers to check if there are any lumps or if something doesn’t feel normal.

During your breast exam, you can also talk to your doctor about any risk factors you may have and what you can do to help prevent breast cancer. If you know that you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, this might also mean that you should get screened at a younger age or more regularly.

Over 240,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the U.S. and, while breast cancer can be successfully treated, 40,000 people die from the disease annually. Since anyone is at risk for developing breast cancer, it’s important everyone to know your body, learn how to recognize what’s not normal for you, and regularly schedule breast exams with your doctor if you are a person who has breasts.

Your local Planned Parenthood is here to help. Make an appointment with one of our trusted, compassionate providers by calling (714) 922-4100 for Orange County, and (909) 890-5511 for San Bernardino County.