In its simplest form, breast cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells in the tissues of the breast. These malignant cells, which can spread from their origin throughout the entire body, grow and multiply in a disorderly fashion, leading to the growth of tumors. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer women face, affecting one out of every eight women in their lifetime, and while it affects both men and women, it is far more common in women. It is estimated that nearly 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and 40,000 of those diagnosed lose their life to the disease annually; on average, men are diagnosed with breast cancer at one-tenth that rate.
While billions of dollars have been spent researching breast cancer and disseminating the knowledge gleaned from these efforts to the public, there are still many things that people, even those who have been diagnosed with the disease, do not know about it. In order to prevent, treat or support a loved one fighting the disease, it is vitally important that you understand some of the lesser-known facts about breast cancer. To that end, we have compiled a list of five things you may not know about breast cancer but definitely should.
- Secondhand smoke is a risk factor – While it is widely known and accepted that smoking increases the risk of almost every type of cancer, you might be surprised to know that secondhand smoke can be just as deadly. Several recent studies have helped draw a link between exposure to secondhand smoke and an increased incidence of breast cancer in women. Clearly, if you are a smoker or live and socialize among smokers, it is important for you to quit and put distance between yourself and those who smoke. This is especially true if you display any of the other risk factors that put you at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
- Both parents’ genetics matter – When people think about the link between family history and breast cancer, it is tempting to look only at the mother’s family tree when trying to gauge risk. However, it is equally important to look at the father’s side of the family to fully understand your individual risk for developing the disease. The genes of both parents play a critical role in an individual’s risk of developing the disease, so even if your father’s relatives have a history of breast cancer, you could be a higher risk even if he never develops it.
- Stress plays an incredibly important role – Scientists are just now beginning to understand the huge impact stress has across all aspects of health and wellness. While the mechanisms by which stress impacts breast cancer are still not fully understood, having a strong support system in place can help healing and recovery. Strong social networks help people manage life’s challenges, controlling stress and improving overall health; there is even evidence to suggest that stress and social isolation can impact tumor size!
- Not all lumps are cancerous – There is no doubt that finding a lump in your breast is an incredibly jarring experience, but having a lump does not always mean you have breast cancer. Estimates vary, but up to three-quarters of all lumps women find during breast self-exams turn out to be benign and do not require aggressive treatment. However, it is still very important to have any lumps or masses you find checked out by a physician immediately.
- Men can get breast cancer, too – Breast cancer, with its pink ribbons and distinct ties to motherhood, is undoubtedly a female-centric disease process, both in terms of incidence rates and how awareness is raised for research and prevention efforts. However, men have breast tissue, too, so they can and do develop this deadly disease, albeit at a much lower rate. Therefore it is important to ensure men keep an eye out for any of the warnings signs of the disease in themselves as well as their partners. New lumps, pain, or sudden changes to the appearance of the breast should be checked out by a doctor immediately.