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How does breast cancer start?

5 mins

Akhila Jerripothula

Why is breast cancer awareness important? Because 1 in 8 U.S. women and 1 in 883 U.S. men get breast cancer. Find the signs and screen at-home!

As much as we love talking about beauty, we’re here to talk about a serious issue that affects 1 in 8 U.S. women over the course of her lifetime. Breast Cancer is the topic of the month, as October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Since it’s one of the most common types of cancers that affect people in the U.S, it’s really important to keep in the know about breast cancer. Breast cancer isn’t just limited to women, since men also have breast tissue. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 883.   

It is recommended to start getting regular, annual mammograms starting at age 40. Until then, self-examinations can start at a younger age to help get an earlier diagnosis. Earlier breast cancer screenings can be done if you have secondary conditions that might exacerbate the appearance of this kind of cancer, like a family history of breast cancer, known genetic mutations, history of radiation therapy to the chest, or even Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry (as people of this ancestry have a higher likelihood of getting breast cancer). Breast cancer is a topic we want to highlight, as U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer.


What Causes Breast Cancer?

There’s been much progress in cancer research, but we’re still not too certain how certain kinds of cancers come to be. Since breast cancer is so common and affects various demographics, scientists have found correlations with lifestyle choices that can increase the chances of getting breast cancer. Scientific research has found that a lack of vitamins (in particular vitamin D), toxins in deodorants, hormonal issues, and of course family history can all play a big part in increasing the chances of breast cancer. 

Signs Of Breast Cancer

There are tell-tale signs of a possible cancer in the breast to look out for. What are the symptoms of stage 1 breast cancer? This includes “a new lump in the breast or armpit, 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 the shape of the breast, or pain in any area of the breast.”  (Source

Since breasts can be naturally very lumpy, it is important to know what kinds of lumps to be on the lookout for. Lumps that feel harder or different from the rest of the breast or have changed are a concern and should be checked. These kinds of lumps can be a sign of breast cancer or a benign breast condition like a cyst or fibroadenoma (a noncancerous breast tumor). Liquid leaking from your nipple can be troubling, but it's rarely a sign of breast cancer. Discharge can be your body's natural reaction when the nipple is squeezed. More signs of a serious condition that include discharge are that the discharge occurs without squeezing the nipple, occurs in only one breast, is bloody or clear (not milky). Remember that nipple discharge can also be caused by an infection or some other kind of condition that would also need treatment. More signs of a serious condition that indicate that you should contact your provider are lumps, hard knots or thickening inside the breast or underarm area, swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast, change in the size or shape of the breast, dimpling or puckering of the skin, itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple, pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast, nipple discharge that starts suddenly, new pain in one spot that doesn't go away. 

Keep in mind that these symptoms can appear in cases that may not be cancerous, so it is best to take these cautionary signs for what they are. Since breast tissue is naturally lumpy, finding a lump in your breast is not an immediate sign of breast cancer. Does stress cause breast cancer? The signs can change with your menstrual cycle, having children, losing or gaining weight, taking certain medications, and with age. You know yourself best-- if something feels different or off about your breast or your breast tissue, bring it up to your primary care doctor or gynecologist as soon as possible.

At-home Breast Exam

Like we mentioned before, you can start doing monthly self-exams on your breasts starting at age 20. Starting earlier than 20 might not be the best idea because the breasts of teenagers are still growing and changing through puberty, plus breast problems like cancer are extremely rare in teen girls. Remember that your menstrual cycle can change how your breasts may feel, so the best time to do a breast self-exam (BSE) is about 3-5 days after your period starts when your breasts are less swollen and sensitive. The following are the steps for a breast self-exam from

  1. Begin by lying on your back. It is easier to examine all breast tissue if you are lying down.
  2. Place your right hand behind your head. With the middle fingers of your left hand, gently yet firmly press down using small motions to examine the entire right breast.
  3. Next, sit or stand. Feel your armpit, because breast tissue goes into that area.
  4. Gently squeeze the nipple, checking for discharge. Repeat the process on the left breast.
  5. Next, stand in front of a mirror with your arms by your side.
  6. Look at your breasts directly and in the mirror. Look for changes in skin texture, such as dimpling, puckering, indentations, or skin that looks like an orange peel.
  7. Note the shape and outline of each breast.
  8. Check to see if the nipple turns inward.
  9. Do the same with your arms raised above your head.

By doing this monthly, you get a feel for the normal state of your breast and changes that might occur over time. 

What To Do If You Have Symptoms

So, what do you do if you actually find something? Luckily, there are a lot of resources online that guide people to get the best treatment for your condition. Lack of action is a huge reason why many people end up passing away from cancer. 

The general rule of thumb is, if any lumps feel different, weird or out of place (and has been for longer than normal (about a week)) then please contact a medical provider like your primary care doctor or your gynecologist. (Source) If you do not have these caregivers already set, then find a gynecologist that would work best for you, or you can always seek out locations like Planned Parenthood, as they offer services for different kinds of cancer screenings.  

Boost Your Breast Health

Self-care doesn’t stop at skincare and warm baths. Your breasts are important parts of your body and deserve the same love. Like we’ve mentioned before, because cancer is still something that many scientists do not completely understand, it is hard to pinpoint what lifestyle changes we can do. However, there have been things found to help lower the presence of carcinogenic cells in our bodies. 

Aside from making sure that you are regularly doing your self-exams and yearly screenings, you can make sure to eat a healthy diet. Research shows that cancerous tissue has been found to have high levels of aluminum and parabens, so avoiding products that have both would be best, like aluminum-free deodorants and paraben-free shampoos like those from WOW Skin Science.

Whole food diets can help to prevent any estrogen-like compounds that can be found in a lot of traditional foods and medicines that can negatively affect your body. Regular, daily exercise is also very important to keep in your daily routine to help expel any toxins from the body through sweat, and to help promote blood flow, endorphins and to promote lymphatic drainage throughout the body. It is also important to stop smoking and to try to stop or at least limit alcohol and caffeine consumption. Lowering or even better, eradicating regular sugar from your diet would also do wonders for your body-- using sugar alternatives like stevia, agave, or honey would be best. Breastfeeding can actually help to lower your breast cancer risk as well, as can having children when you are younger than 35. Making sure to take the needed vitamins, especially vitamin D has been found to help decrease the possibility of cancer-- as have omega’s. Lastly, there has been a benefit seen in getting massages done if you are a breast cancer survivor or are currently going through the experience.  Using massage as a self-care technique would be beneficial and promote relaxation. (Source)


As we enter the last week of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we must keep in mind year-round the prevalence of breast cancer and how close we all are to it. There are more than 3.5 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S. This includes women currently being treated and women who have finished treatment. Because of this, it is really important to find resources to help ease any pain or discomfort that these people may be experiencing. There are symptoms to keep an eye out for and lifestyle changes you can make in your life today that help to lower any prevalence of carcinogenic cells or tissue in the body. Make sure to go get screened regularly, good luck! 

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