Breast Cancer: Everything I wanted to ask the pharmacist about, but didn’t

Disclaimer: All women need to be informed by their health care provider about the best screening options for them. When you are told about the benefits and risks of screening and decide with your health care provider whether screening is right for you—and if so, when to have it—this is called informed and shared decision-making.

October is breast cancer awareness month so let’s start off with some statistics from the CDC. 

  • Each year in the United States, more than 245,000 women get breast cancer and more than 40,000 women die from the disease. See detailed statistics.
  • Men also get breast cancer, but it is not very common. Less than 1% of breast cancers occur in men.
  • Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older, but breast cancer also affects younger women.
  • About 10% of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age.

Who is at risk (CDC):

  • Age (most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50)
  • Genetic mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • Early menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, thus increasing your risk
  • Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer and the tumors are harder to find on an MRI
  • Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases. 
  • Family history of breast cancer. 
  • Previous treatment using radiation therapy before age 30 have a higher risk 
  • Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was given to some pregnant women in the United States between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, have a higher risk. Women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them are also at risk.
  • Not being physically active. 
  • Being overweight or obese after menopause. 
  • Taking hormones for more than five years
  • Having the first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
  • Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks.

What are the symptoms (CDC)?

  • New lump in the breast or underarm 
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
  • Any change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Pain in any area of the breast

But do I need a mammogram (CDC)?

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) Mammogram Recommendations:

  • Women who are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every two years. 
  • Women who are 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor or other health care professional about when to start and how often to get a mammogram. 
Women should weigh the benefits and risks of screening tests when deciding whether to begin getting mammograms before age 50.

Wait what is a mammogram (CDC)?

An X-ray picture of the breast

Do mammograms hurt?

Some women find it uncomfortable and painful

What else besides a mammogram can I do?

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