Breast cancer may be the second leading cause of cancer death in women but when detected early, at a localized stage, the survival rate is as high as 98 percent. In fact, the mortality rate has significantly reduced since 2000, mainly because of increased awareness, improved treatments as well as early detection.

Here are seven things you should know about breast cancer.

1. Don’t Wait For A Lump To Appear
While the most common sign of breast cancer is the detection of a lumpy mass in your breasts, about 45 percent of breast cancers detected each year fall in the ‘non-lump’ symptoms category. Here’s a list of uncommon symptoms which can point to it:

  • Changes such as redness, dimpling or puckering in the skin of the breast
  • A rash-less itch accompanied by a nipple discharge
  • A change in the shape or size of the breast or the anatomy (turned in, indented or flattened nipple)
  • Unusual breast pain which doesn’t seem like a PMS symptom (Premenstrual Syndrome)
  • Stiff neck and back pain

2. Self-Exam Can Be The Best Exam
Breast Self-Exams (BSEs) can help you distinguish the abnormal from the normal. Women, especially those in their 20s, are encouraged to do a monthly self-examination. By doing it on a regular basis, you can more readily detect signs of abnormality such as the development of a lump, redness or nipple changes. Report any deviation from the normal to your doctor—an early diagnosis always improves the chances of surviving the disease [1, 2].

3. Mammograms Are Not Always Perfect
The accuracy of detecting a breast abnormality from a screening mammogram (breast X-ray) largely depends on the interpreter and hence there is always a chance of human error [3] . This is why healthcare officials recommend every woman above the age of 40 to get it done annually.

4. Family History Plays Little Role In Breast Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, only five to 10 percent of all breast cancer cases are due to genetics. A woman’s risk of developing breast cancer is high only if she has a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. [4]

5. Mastectomy Does Not Ensure A Cure
Surgical removal of breasts, medically known as the bilateral prophylactic mastectomy, is thought to reduce the risk of breast cancer significantly, but not completely because one cannot get rid of all the breast tissue through this surgery. (Related slideshow: 10 Celebs Who Have Survived Breast Cancer)

6. Men Can Get Breast Cancer, Too
Breast cancer is not limited to women; one percent of all breast cancer diagnoses occur in men. The symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer in men is similar to that of women; though the risk factors and causes may differ significantly.

7. Prevention Is Possible
The American Cancer Society suggests that although there isn’t a definite way to prevent breast cancer, women can adopt certain changes that may help in reducing the risk of the disease [7]

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Ensure enough physical activity
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Quit smoking
  • Breast-feed [8]
  • Limit hormone therapy and birth control pills

By having a breast checkup on a yearly basis and following a healthy lifestyle, you can definitely prevent or reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

For more interesting stories, visit our Health page. Read more about Diseases & Conditions here.

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1. Nelson AL. Controversies regarding mammography, breast self-examination, andclinical breast examination. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2013 Sep;40(3):413-27.doi: 10.1016/j.ogc.2013.05.001. Epub 2013 Jul 25. Review. PubMed PMID: 24021250. 

2. Armin J, Torres CH, Vivian J, Vergara C, Shaw SJ. Breast self-examination beliefs and practices, ethnicity, and health literacy: Implications for health education to reduce disparities. Health Educ J. 2014 May;73(3):274-284. PubMedPMID: 25284844; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4179105. 

3. Elmore JG, Miglioretti DL, Carney PA. Does practice make perfect when interpreting mammography? Part II. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2003 Feb 19;95(4):250-2. PubMed PMID: 12591973.

4. Filippini SE, Vega A. Breast cancer genes: beyond BRCA1 and BRCA2. Front Biosci (Landmark Ed). 2013 Jun 1;18:1358-72. Review. PubMed PMID: 23747889.

5. Jatoi I, Parsons HM. Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy and its association with reduced mortality: evidence for selection bias. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2014 Oct 10. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 25301088.

6. Arleo EK, Eisen C. Unusual findings in the male breast patient: A case series. Breast Dis. 2014 Sep 29. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 25267371.

7. Euhus DM, Diaz J. Breast Cancer Prevention. Breast J. 2014 Nov 20. doi: 10.1111/tbj.12352. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 25413630.

8. Comité de nutrition de la Société française de pédiatrie, Turck D, Vidailhet M, Bocquet A, Bresson JL, Briend A, Chouraqui JP, Darmaun D, Dupont C, Frelut ML, Girardet JP, Goulet O, Hankard R, Rieu D, Simeoni U.[Breastfeeding: health benefits for child and mother]. Arch Pediatr. 2013 Nov;20 Suppl 2:S29-48. doi: 10.1016/S0929-693X(13)72251-6. French. PubMed PMID: 25063312.