October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about the causes and symptoms of breast cancer and ways to prevent it. It’s also an opportunity to discuss how hospice and palliative care can help women and men improve their quality of life while living with the disease.
Breast Cancer Risk
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. Unfortunately, according to the American Cancer Society, it’s also the second-leading cause of cancer death.
Breast cancer can be found in both men and women, but it’s much more common in women. Men are also at risk for breast cancer, especially if they have a family history or test positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations.
About half of women diagnosed with breast cancer are age 62 or older. In fact, one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. These cells form a tumor that can spread to other parts of the body through the lymph nodes or blood vessels. Eventually, this tumor becomes so large that it can’t be removed by surgery alone.
Some of the most common risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Age: Risk increases after age 50
- Family history: Having a mother or sister diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50 increases your risk
- Genetics: Certain genes increase your risk of developing breast cancer
- Diet: Eating red meat and processed meats may increase your risk of developing breast cancer
- Alcohol use, smoking cigarettes or marijuana
- Radiation exposure, hormone therapy treatments
- Fractures or surgeries on your chest area
- Having dense breasts, being overweight or obese
- Not getting enough exercise
- Having diabetes or high blood pressure
Breast Cancer Symptoms
Symptoms vary depending on where the cancer is located in your body, but they may include:
- A lump or mass in your breast (or underarm).
- Nipple discharge that is bloody or watery, sometimes tinged with green or yellow coloration.
- A nipple that has become inverted (turned inward).
- Pain or tenderness in your breasts—especially if you have never experienced this before.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately so they can conduct tests to determine if you have breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments
Breast cancer can be treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and surgery. But if you have metastatic breast cancer—meaning it has spread beyond your breast—you may need another treatment called palliative care or hospice care.
Palliative care helps relieve pain and other symptoms that make it difficult to enjoy life. Hospice care helps people near the end of life who still want to live as fully as possible. Both types of care help patients feel better by addressing their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk
Although there’s no way to prevent breast cancer completely, there are lifestyle changes you can make that may lower your risk:
- Eat healthy foods with fewer calories and less fat
- Exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes per day)
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Limit alcohol consumption (no more than one drink per day)
- Quit smoking cigarettes
- Get regular mammograms starting at age 40
If you’re worried about breast cancer symptoms or signs, talk to your doctor about getting screened for this disease. Early detection is critical for successful treatment options and recovery from breast cancer.
Hospice Care and Palliative Care Helps Those With Breast Cancer
Hospice care focuses on providing comfort to terminally ill patients or at risk of dying soon. However, it’s important to note that hospice care does not mean giving up hope—instead, it gives patients and their families a chance to prepare for whatever may come next. Palliative care is similar in that it focuses on providing comfort instead of cure, but it also helps patients deal with side effects of cancer treatment like pain or discomfort.
Both are important options for people with breast cancer who want to live their lives as fully as possible while still being prepared for death if necessary. Contact us if you or your loved one would like more information on how we can help comfort you during this time.