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5 Facts About Breast Cancer That Aren't Well Known

Posted on October 12, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Todd Gersten, M.D.
Article written by
Rebeca Schiller

If you are living with breast cancer or care for someone who does, you’ve likely read quite a bit about the condition. However, it’s impossible to know everything about breast cancer, as it has such a wide range of variables and can affect people differently.

Following are five facts about breast cancer that can give you more information about the condition. Learning more about breast cancer can help you better understand the condition and treatments.

Fact 1: Not Everyone With Breast Cancer Will Encounter a Lump

Many people associate breast cancer with a lump in the breast tissue. However, during the early stages of breast cancer, symptoms like a lump don’t always appear. In fact, other signs and symptoms may occur instead. Contact your doctor for a breast cancer screening, either a mammogram or ultrasound, if you notice any of these signs:

  • Changes in the shape, size, or contours of your breast
  • Skin discoloration on the breast or nipple
  • Nipple discharge
  • A hardened area under the skin that feels like a marble

Keep in mind that finding a breast lump doesn’t mean you have cancer. Benign masses may be a cyst, fibroadenoma, or breast tissue that's thicker in one area of the breast. Remember, early detection can save your life, so if you spot anything suspicious or experience pain in your breast, don’t ignore it. Contact your doctor so you can discuss your symptoms, family history, and any other issues that may contribute to breast cancer risk factors.

Fact 2: Men Can Develop Breast Cancer

Everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which repair damaged cells. Yet, when mutations appear in these genes, they're passed genetically to the next generation, increasing the recipients’ risk of breast, ovarian, prostate, and other cancers.

Although women are primarily associated with BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations and breast cancer, men also may have mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, putting them at risk of developing breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 2,650 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in U.S. men this year, and the risk of a breast cancer diagnosis is 1 in 833 during the course of a man’s lifetime. It's estimated that 530 men in the U.S. will die from breast cancer in 2021.

Men can also have the same common types of breast cancer as those diagnosed in women:

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ — Cancer cells are found in the ducts’ lining that haven’t spread to surrounding breast tissue.
  • Invasive ductal carcinoma — Cancer cells grow beyond the ducts and to other areas of the breast tissue. These cancer cells can also spread to other body parts.
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma — Cancer cells spread from the lobules to nearby breast tissue, and can also spread to other areas beyond the breast.

Certain factors may also increase the chances of male breast cancer occurring, such as testicular injuries, swelling in the testicles, or surgery to remove the testicles.

Breast cancer risk increases for people who have relatives with the disease. Discuss your family history with your doctor, and ask about genetic testing to learn if cancer runs in your family. If you decide to get genetic testing, ask your doctor for a referral to a genetic counselor so all your questions can be answered.

Fact 3: Breast Cancer Risk May Rise With BMI

If your body mass index (or BMI) is higher than 25, your risk of a breast cancer diagnosis increases compared to those who maintain a healthy weight, according to Breastcancer.org. This is particularly true of those who are postmenopausal or who have extra weight around their belly.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation reports that women who are overweight or obese before menopause have a 20 percent to 40 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those who are slim. However, postmenopausal women who are overweight or obese have a 20 percent to 60 percent higher breast cancer risk than women who are lean, and most breast cancer diagnoses occur following menopause.

Maintaining a healthy weight can potentially lower your risk of breast cancer — but doing so will not completely eliminate the risk of breast cancer. If you need guidance on what to eat and whether you should exercise, speak with your doctor and get a referral to meet with a dietitian.

Fact 4: Alcohol Consumption May Be Linked to Breast Cancer

Information about the connection between breast cancer and alcohol can be confusing, but evidence suggests that alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Studies have indicated that moderate alcohol consumption is connected to a 30 percent to 50 percent increase in breast cancer risk. “Moderate” consumption refers to drinking between 15 and 30 grams (one or two drinks) of alcohol daily.

Research shows how ethanol in alcoholic drinks is broken down to acetaldehyde, considered a possible carcinogen, which can damage both DNA and proteins. In addition, alcohol may impair how the body metabolizes and absorbs various nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and carotenoids. Alcohol can also increase the blood levels of estrogen, which can be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Although reducing your alcohol consumption and making lifestyle changes like diet and exercise will reduce your risk factors, they will not eliminate the chances of developing breast cancer.

Fact 5: Monthly Breast Self-Exams May Not Be Necessary

From the time many people reach puberty, they’ve been taught to do a monthly breast self-exam. However, the American Cancer Society does not recommend regular self-exams as part of a routine breast cancer-screening schedule. As part of its recommendation, the organization notes there’s no evidence that regular breast self-exams can help reduce breast-cancer related deaths. The organization does encourage people to be aware of any noticeable changes in their breasts.

Not all experts agree on the benefits of breast self-exams. If you are unsure whether you may benefit from self-exams, or if you notice any changes to your breasts, you should speak with your doctor.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 53,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.

Which breast cancer facts do you find the most compelling? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your activities page.

A MyBCTeam Member said:

This is good info

posted about 1 month ago

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Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Rebeca Schiller is a health writer. Her articles have appeared in NewsDay’s Healthlink, Livestrong, and VeryWell Health. Learn more about her here.

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