This year, over 350,000 cases of breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in America, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS.) The most unfortunate news is that until it hits home for someone (including men,) the number doesn’t seem to be frightening enough. The earliest form of breast cancer (in situ) is not life-threatening. The most effective ways of reducing the chance of death are by early detection through self-exams and mammography – and quick action. The AMC reports that when breast cancer is detected early, and is in the localized stage, the 5-year relative survival rate is 99%.

Warning Signs for Women

Feeling for lumps in not enough. Pay attention to how your breasts normally look and feel and how they change. If one of the signs mentioned below wasn’t there before and persists for a week or more, see your doctor – even if you’ve had a mammogram three or so months before.

  • Any new lump, whether it’s hard and painless or soft and tender
  • Thickening or swelling of a breast. One may suddenly look slightly larger.
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collarbone
  • Itchy, red, scaled, dimpled or puckered skin around the breast
  • If the nipple goes inward or pulls to the side
  • Any clear or bloody discharge from the nipple

Breast Cancer in Men

That’s right. As founding member and drummer of the rock band KISS reminds us, after being diagnosed himself, “You don’t have to have boobs to get breast cancer.”  While less than 1 percent of the male population is diagnosed with breast cancer, more men die from it than women because they ignore symptoms as something else. That’s why it’s important for men to seek care immediately if they feel a lump in the breast or armpit or notice changes to the breast or nipple. Warning signs are much the same as women:  a lump in the breast or armpit, nipple flattening or inversion, nipple redness, scaling or even discharge.

According to the Mayo Clinic, it is most commonly diagnosed in men in their 60s.

Risks Factors

Increasing age, obesity, harmful use of alcohol, history of radiation exposure, reproductive history (such as age that menstrual periods began and age at first pregnancy), tobacco use and postmenopausal hormone therapy, and family history of breast cancer or genes.  Bear in mind, that while a family history of breast cancer increases the risk of breast cancer, it is reported that almost half of the diagnosed breast cancers develop in women who have no family history. Conversely, a lack of a known family history does not necessarily mean that you are at reduced risk for cancer. It’s dicey.

Risk factors for male breast cancer include exposure to radiation and an excess of estrogen in the body, such as from estrogen-related drugs or liver disease, as well as obesity, heavy drinking, smoking and lack of physical activity. Black men are more likely to get breast cancer than white and Hispanic men and are also more likely to die from it, according to a Susan G. Komen report.

Reduce Your Risk

  • Get enough sleep. Postmenopausal women with breast cancer who routinely sleep less than six hours a night may be twice as likely to have more aggressive breast cancers. As one leading author on the subject points out, “”Cancer is a disease of mistakes in our DNA. Sufficient sleep is responsible for maintaining our circadian rhythm, which regulates our body’s natural DNA repair. If that process is frequently disrupted so is DNA correction.”
  • Lose weight. Whether you’re overweight or obese it increases your risk of breast cancer. Fat tissue produces excess amounts of estrogen shown to be linked to cancer, and research has shown that fat also raises insulin levels, which can stimulate tumor growths. Studies have shown that active women who gained weight after menopause had an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Eat a colorful, high-fiber diet. Eat red and orange vegetables and fruits. Carrots, squash, tomatoes, melon, and sweet potatoes contain high levels of beta carotene and other carotenoids, which studies found lower risk of estrogen receptor tumors. What’s more, in a recent study from Women’s Health Initiative, postmenopausal women who at less fat and more fiber decreased their risk of dying from breast cancer.
  • Limit alcohol. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol raises a person’s risk for six types of cancer including breast cancer (in women.) The American Cancer Society recommends no more than one drink a day.
  • Exercise. Do any activity of any sort for 90 minutes a day. The latest research shows that any physical activity protects against breast cancer, even if you start after menopause.

When to Have a Mammogram

Experts recommend women get mammograms starting at age 40 (or sooner if you have a strong family history) every year until age 55, after which they have the option to get one every other year – but can continue yearly mammograms – up to at least age 74.