Every October, we donate to breast cancer awareness organizations, wear pink ribbons or clothing, and are grateful for our family members in remission. It’s easy to go through the motions, but it’s more important that we know the risk factors and common signs of breast cancer. Participating in proactive at-home testing and attending regular doctor appointments can lower your risk of breast cancer mortality.
Close to 1 in 8 U.S. women, roughly 13 percent, will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Additionally, 1 percent of men will develop breast cancer. Because of its commonality, breast cancer is not a disease you want to take lightly.
Thankfully, new research continues to come out so we can act proactively and get diagnosed before it can progress. Recently, a study published in 2017 shared that there may be a link between uterine fibroids and breast cancer. But, first things first, let’s go over the basics.
What Is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control. Early stages of breast can usually be treated easily through radiation or chemotherapy. Women with breast cancer might notice a few symptoms such as:
- An unknown mass in the breast or armpit.
- Pain in the area around the nipple.
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
- Changes to skin color or texture such as redness or irritated skin.
However, it’s important to note that many women don’t know they have breast cancer until its in a later stage. In some cases, a lump or mass may be too small for you to feel. Additionally, some types of breast cancer may not cause unusual changes or symptoms. That’s why it’s crucial to get checked by your physician, especially if you’re at an increased risk.
Types of Breast Cancer
We often think of breast cancer in a general way; however, you may be surprised to learn that there is more than one type. When a biopsy is taken of the mass, the cells are tested for proteins like estrogen receptors (estrogen-positive breast cancer), progesterone receptors, as well as HER2.
In addition to what the cells are composed of, breast cancer types are characterized by their location; these include:
- Ducts: Most breast cancers begin in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple, this is known as ductal cancers.
- Glands: When cancerous cells are found within the glands that make breast milk, this is known as lobular breast cancer.
- Connective tissue: Rare cancer cells found within the connective tissue within and around the breasts, also referred to as a phyllodes tumor.
- Blood vessels or lymph nodes: Type of cancer that starts in cells that line blood vessels or lymph vessels within the breasts.
When breast cancer is found in the blood vessels or lymph nodes, doctors refer to as “metascized”, which can be extremely serious.
Stages of Breast Cancer
Doctors often talk about the stages of breast cancer when they are discussing how important an early diagnosis truly has to be. The stages of breast cancer are usually characterized by a number on a scale from zero to four. Stage zero describes non-invasive cancers that remain within their original location and can be easily targeted and treated. Stage four describes relatively fast growing, invasive cancers that spread outside the breast to other parts of the body.
There is also a breast cancer staging system, known as TNM, which helps doctors understand which treatment may the best for your individual situation; this includes:
- “T”: Refers to the tumor’s shape and size, as well as if it has grown outside of the breast.
- “N”: If the cancerous cells have extended to the lymph nodes or blood vessels.
- “M”: Means “metastasized”, when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Thankfully, there are new resources, therapies, and diagnosis tools that make managing different stages of cancer more effective than ever. However, getting a clear diagnosis as early as possible will always be your best bet. If you believe you’re at an increased risk or are experiencing symptoms, consult your physician immediately.
Breast Cancer and Uterine Fibroids
Although uterine fibroids and breast cancer may seem to be extremely different diseases, they have a few similar factors such as how they are influenced by hormone production. Studies have also shown that a woman’s risk of breast cancer is related to how much estrogen and progesterone her body is producing. Over time, being exposed to high levels of these hormones, especially estrogen, has been linked to an increased risk of estrogen-positive breast cancer, which is the most common. Just like uterine fibroids, estrogen-positive breast cancer can be caused by genetic and lifestyle factors such as:
- Excessive alcohol consumption, which increases folic acid levels.
- Increased body mass index (BMI) or obesity after menopause.
- Family history.
- Lack of physical activity.
All of these factors increase your risk of estrogen-positive breast cancer as well as fibroids. This is because these lifestyle and genetic risks can influence the levels of estrogen your body produces. Consult your physician if you have questions about your individual fibroid or breast cancer risk. Your doctor can help you navigate with receiving a diagnosis and finding a treatment plan that works for you. Both uterine fibroids and breast cancer symptoms should never be ignored. Don’t wait for changes to worsen, get ahead of them before they progress.
Increased Breast Cancer Risk In Women with Fibroids
Recent studies have found that the incidence of breast cancer is significantly higher in women with fibroids, then compared to those without.
However in the same study, researchers found that the mortality rates from breast cancer were significantly lower in patients with uterine fibroids. Therefore, if you have fibroids you may be at an increased risk for breast cancer; however, you will have a lower breast cancer mortality risk.
Although this is optimistic news, diagnosing breast cancer at an early stage will impact your overall mortality risk for women with and without fibroids. Thankfully, there are ways you can test at home for breast cancer.
How to Test for Breast Cancer
Just like uterine fibroids, breast cancer is often detected through ultrasound technology. However, there are a few other ways doctors can test for breast cancer, which include:
- At-home breast exam: An initial test you can do in the comfort of your home where you look at the size and shape of your breasts as well as follow a feeling pattern around the breast tissue and nipples looking for lumps. This should only be done in conjunction with regular doctor visits, mammograms, and ultrasounds.
- Diagnostic mammogram: This is a more detailed X-ray of the breast tissue and ducts. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): an MRI uses a magnet linked to a computer. MRIs are often more detailed than ultrasounds.
- Biopsy: this is the most definitive test where the doctor removes a tiny piece of tissue or fluid from the breast to be sent to a lab and looked at under a microscope to determine if the cells are cancerous or not.
Even though this information can vary, It is recommended that women over the age of 40 get regular mammograms every two years. If you are at an increased risk, your doctor may recommend you get tested every six months to one year.
Just like breast cancer, there are proactive ways you can manage and treat fibroids. No one should live with painful, life-altering symptoms. Find out how you can get tested and treated today.
Proactive Ways to Manage and Treat Fibroids
Unlike breast cancer, uterine fibroids are not considered life-threatening. Even though fibroids are rarely cancerous, if you’re at an increased age you may want to get a biopsy to make sure. Like breast cancer, there are proactive ways to test, manage, and treat uterine fibroids. Fibroid specialists utilize non-invasive technology like ultrasounds and MRIs to locate fibroid tumors. Once located, your doctor will work with you to develop a comprehensive fibroid treatment plan that fits your individual needs. It’s important to know that there are both surgical and non-surgical options available – and most are even covered by Medicaid.
Thankfully at the Fibroid Fighters Foundation, we aim to educate women with fibroids about their options when it comes to finding effective treatment solutions. If you’re experiencing symptoms and want to get checked for fibroids, give us a call at 855-455-5262 or contact us conveniently online.
The Fibroid Fighters Foundation is passionate about connecting women with one another to share their unique stories about living with fibroids. If you want to share your fibroid journey and connect with others, check out our website page where you can talk about your experience via video, audio, or text.