October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

We’re over halfway through October, but we’d be remiss if we got all the way to Halloween and hadn’t discussed why you should “think pink” this month. 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. Throughout each October you’ll see companies and organizations, like the Susan G. Komen Foundation, donning pink ribbons or sporting pink attire to honor those who have battled or are currently facing breast cancer.

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The Disease

Breast cancer occurs when cells divide and grow without normal controls. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) occurs when abnormal cells grow inside the milk ducts, but have not spread to nearby tissue. DCIS is a non-invasive breast cancer. Invasive breast cancer occurs when cancer cells spread to nearby tissue or other parts of the body. Invasive breast cancer that spreads to other parts of the body is called metastatic breast cancer. 

Did you know?

  • One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in women.
  • It is the second leading cause of death in women.
  • More than a quarter-million women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 die each year. On average, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every two minutes and a woman dies of the disease every 13 minutes.
  • Though it is rarer, men are susceptible to breast cancer, too. An estimated 2,500 men are diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 460 die each year.
  • Over 3.3 million breast cancer survivors are alive in the United States today.
The good news is that although there’s still a long way to go when it comes to raising awareness and battling this disease, there has been a gradual reduction in female breast cancer rates among women 50 and older. Death rates from breast cancer have also been declining since 1990. This is credited to increased awareness, improved treatment options, and early detection — which is particularly critical.

Detection and Warning Signs

Breast self-exams, clinical breast exams and mammograms are all used to screen for breast cancer.

While the warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women, the most common signs are changes in the look and/or feel of the breast and/or nipple, and/or nipple discharge. Many women discover their breast cancer by coming across a lump or bump in their breast and asking their doctor about it. The tissue of the breast is naturally bumpy, so lumpiness is not an immediate cause for worry, but it’s important to monitor your breasts regularly so that you can recognize any changes or oddities you may come across.

Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform these types of breast self-exams at least once a month. 

Johns Hopkins Medical center states:

Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”

Clinical breast exams are usually done during a routine medical visit where a doctor checks your breasts for any abnormalities.

Mammograms use X-ray technology to take detailed images of the breasts. It is generally recommended that women 40 and over should get a mammogram every one to two years. If you have a genetic history of breast cancer and/or other risk factors, it’s typically advised that you start screenings before 40 at the direction of your doctor.

Men have much less breast tissue compared to women and are not routinely screened for breast cancer. But, men with an inherited gene mutation or a strong family history of breast cancer are encouraged to get annual clinical breast screenings and perform routine self-breast exams. The most common warning sign of breast cancer in men is a painless lump, however, any change in the breast (or chest area) or nipple can be a warning sign of breast cancer in men.

Diagnosis and Treatment

After a doctor has made a diagnosis, there are various treatment options available. Only you, your family, and your doctor can decide the best course of treatment for you.

Treatment options include: standard options versus clinical trials, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, and holistic approaches that include regulating your nutrition and physical activity.

Your treatment plan will be based on your diagnosis. It will depend on what stage your cancer is in and whether it has spread; the type of breast cancer you have; your age, health, and menstrual cycle status; and your medical history. Again, working with a doctor to guide your breast cancer decisions is key.

Self-awareness is a foundational component of maintaining your physical health, and breast cancer awareness is no exception. It’s important to emphasize that all women over 40 should be screened regardless of family history, and men with strong family histories of breast cancer should also be screened. Breast cancer can affect anyone regardless of ethnicity, age (it is possible to get breast cancer before the age of 40), gender (though male cases are rarer), or genetics and early detection is one of the best ways to get ahead of the disease. To the 3.3 million breast cancer survivors, we salute you this month, and every month.

If you’d like to learn more, a free breast health guide is available for download courtesy of the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

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