When breast cancer is detected early in the localized stage (before it has had a chance to spread), the five-year survival rate is 100 percent.

In 2017, approximately 30 percent of newly diagnosed cancers in women will be breast cancer. And though some are at higher risk than others, the fact is that ALL women are at risk for the disease. Accordingly, you would think all women would have a plan in place to reduce that risk. Not so.

Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells in the body grow out of control, and spread into surrounding tissues. When cancer starts in the breast, it is called breast cancer. Although typically occurring in women, men can get it too, however, their lifetime risk is about 1 in 1,000. The lifetime risk rate for women is 1 in 8.

A lump in the breast is typically one of the first signs of breast cancer. There are many conditions that cause lumps in the breast other than cancer. Most lumps are caused by cysts. These cysts are generally harmless sacs filled with fluid, rather than a cancerous lump of cells. The following are the most common signs of breast cancer, and all women (and men) should consult a physician when any of these changes are noticed: 

Lump or thickening (a mass, swelling, skin irritation, or distortion) in or near the breast or in the underarm area Change in the size or shape of the breast Change in the color or feel of the skin of the breast, areola, or nipple (dimpled, puckered, or scaly) Nipple discharge, erosion, inversion, or tenderness

When breast cancer is detected early in the localized stage (before it has had a chance to spread), the five-year survival rate is 100 percent. Dependent on age, women should receive a mammogram, clinical breast exam, or perform a self-exam, to lower their risk for breast cancer.

If you’re between the ages of 50-74 years old, be sure to have a mammogram every two years. If you are between the ages of 40-49, talk with your doctor about when to start, and how often to get a screening mammogram. If breast cancer runs in your family, talk to a health professional. They may recommend you have a mammogram before age 50 or more often than usual. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam every three years. Breast self-exams are an option for women in their 20s and should be performed monthly.

How to perform a monthly, self, breast-exam:

In the shower - using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.

In front of a mirror - visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead. Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women's breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.

Lying down - When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder, raise your right arm overhead and place your right hand behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit. Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.

While self-exams are a great way to evaluate for breast cancer, mammography can detect tumors before they’re felt. Combining both monthly self-exams with recommended mammography can help women further reduce risk. Some risk factors associated with breast cancer are:

Genetics - About 20 percent to 30 percent of women with breast cancer have a family member with this disease. Gender - over her lifetime, a woman in the United States has a 1 in 8 risk of developing breast cancer, and breast cancer occurs nearly 100 times more often in women than in men. Age - two out of three women with invasive cancer are diagnosed after age 55. Lifestyle - physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol, oral contraceptives, not having children, or having your first child after age 30. Environment - exposure to pesticides or other chemicals is currently being examined as a possible risk factor.

The majority of women today are aware of breast cancer, yet many forget to take precautions to avoid the disease. Reduce your risk for breast cancer - self-exams, a clinical exam and a mammogram, are your best action steps to reduce your risk.

To create an early detection plan, visit www.earlydetectionplan.org

To learn more about breast cancer visit www.breastcancer.org

Sean Bridges is Health Educator for the Delaware and Ottawa County Health Departments.