CancerCare Manitoba
 
 
 
Breast Health Information




Breasts vary in size, shape and color. They differ in appearance just like women or men of the same age group do. Society as a whole has given the breast a sexual identity but the true purpose of the breast is to produce and provide breast milk for the new baby.

It is important to understand that normal breast tissue can feel lumpy and can change in size and tenderness through the monthly period. Breast tissue is made of milk glands, ducts, fat, blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue or fibres that give support and shape to the breast. Change in the breast can also happen with weight gain or loss and as women get older.

Breast cancer is most common in women over 50 years of age. That doesn't mean it can't happen in younger women, but it is not as common. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating well, exercising often and limiting alcohol intake may lower the risk of breast cancer.

Many women believe that checking their breasts regularly gives them the best chance of noticing a change or lump and getting early treatment for breast cancer. They get to know their breasts and what is normal for them. Other women though are not as comfortable checking their breasts and become very anxious and worried. As well, research suggests that regular breast self examinations may not save lives. It could also increase the chances of having unneeded tests.

If you believe in checking your breasts regularly, talk to your doctor, contact us at the Breast Cancer Centre of Hope to learn how to do a proper breast check. Learning how to do a breast self exam takes time and practice.

Also, take the time to sit down with your doctor and discuss when you should begin having regular breast examination and mammograms. Talk to them about the Manitoba Breast Screening Program if you are 50 years of age or older.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any of these changes:

  • a new lump
  • puckering or pulling in of the skin
  • new or bloody discharge from the nipple
  • a change in the way the nipple looks
  • change in size, shape or colour of the breast.

 

What is breast cancer?

Cancer is a disease that is named by where a cancer starts to grow. A breast cancer begins in breast tissue and may start in the duct or lobe of the breast. These tissues are made up of microscopic cells which regularly divide to replace older cells, damaged cells or cells that have died. These cells have built-in controls which tell them when to grow or when to stop growing. When the controls in breast cells are not working properly, they divide continually and a lump or tumor is formed.

Not all tumors or lumps are breast cancer. According to the 3rd edition of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book, page 118, there are 12 benign (not cancer) lumps in pre-menopausal woman for every malignant (cancer) lump found, while in the post-menopausal woman who is not taking hormone therapy, 50% will be benign and 50% will be breast cancer.

The 2 most common types of breast cancer are:


Understanding Your Risk
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Canadian women. The cause remains unknown but risks which increase your chances of breast cancer have been identified and will vary with each individual. Are you concerned with breast cancer? in CancerCare's Clinical Investigations Office web site, contains a list of risk factors and information about breast cancer prevention trials.

As the most common cancer diagnosed in Canadian women, breast cancer will involve over 21,000 women across Canada this year. What does this mean for an individual woman?

The often quoted statistic: 1 in 9 women will develop breast cancer can be misleading and causes many women to think their risk is higher than it actually is. This number refers to the chance a woman has of developing breast cancer over a lifetime of 90 years. Because many women do not live to 90 years where the incidence is highest, and breast cancer is more common in women over 50 years, generalizing to a lifetime risk may not be the clearest way to indicate a woman's risk. It may be clearer and more useful to look at a woman's risk in relation to her age today as indicated below:
 
You can see by looking at this table, that even a woman who is 80 years of age only has a 1 in 250 chance of developing breast cancer in the next year. Although this does not change her 1 in 9 lifetime risk, it is a better indicator of the woman's actual risk today.

Prevention Studies

For information follow this link to Breast Cancer Prevention Studies in the Clinical Trials area under CancerCare Manitoba Research.

Breast Health Information

To view print or Order Manitoba Beast Screening Program Publication follow this link to the Breast Screening Information section on the site.