October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’m sure you’ve noticed a lot of pink ribbons and fundraising walks around town to celebrate survivors and give support to women undergoing treatment for the disease! However, breast cancer awareness is more than just charity walks and ribbons.
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Did you know that breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women, especially in those over the age of 50? It’s important to inform yourself by understanding the symptoms and common signs of breast cancer.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Women over 50
Breast cancer can cause many different symptoms, so it’s important to know what to look for. Breast cancer symptoms in women over 50 include:
- A lump in the breast or underarm. Lumps can usually be detected with a mammogram long before they can be seen or felt. Most lumps are not breast cancer, and benign breast lumps after 50 are common, but they can be cancerous, so if you find one, it’s important to get it checked out.
- Breast pain over 50 is common and could be a symptom. Pain may present as a burning sensation in the breast.
- A flattening or indentation in the breast.
- A change in the nipple, such as a scaly rash, nipple retraction, dimpling, or itching. A burning sensation in the nipples is also possible.
- Any change in the contour, temperature, or texture of the breast.
- Unusual discharge from the nipple.
- A new mole on the breast or change in an existing mole.
- A sore that does not heal.
- A cough or hoarseness that doesn’t go away.
- Changes in your bladder or bowels.
- Feeling very weak or tired.
- Weight gain or loss for no known reason.
If you’re concerned about symptoms you’re having, visit your doctor right away. Treatments for breast cancer have improved significantly in recent years, so don’t let fear of treatment prevent you from speaking to your physician. If caught early, most breast cancers are highly treatable.
Screening for Breast Cancer
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommends that women younger than age 50 not receive yearly screening mammograms. The USPSTF is an organization that makes recommendations about health screening tests based on a review of all the available evidence. Current recommendations are now that women between the ages of 50 and 74 receive mammogram screenings every two years.
Many medical experts have come to the conclusion in recent years that mammogram screenings face some of the same problems as PSA screening for prostate cancer.
False positives, or the mammogram showing that a woman has breast cancer when she does not, are very common. False positives result in unnecessary treatments, such as biopsies and CT scans, that have risks for the patient. For women younger than age 50 or older than age 74, the USPSTF has decided that there isn’t evidence to support that the benefits of mammogram screenings outweigh the harms. To learn more, visit the USPSTF’s breast cancer screening page.
The benefits of breast cancer screening can change based on your family history or other personal risk factors. It’s very important you make these decisions in consultation with your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor to determine what screening plan is right for you.
For more information, please review our Breast Cancer Resources.