By Ashley Ferraro
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Unfortunately, many of us have either known someone impacted by breast cancer or been impacted ourselves. Knowing that there is no cure to the disease can be scary, but it gives more reason to raise awareness. This month, we honor those who have fought breast cancer and those who are currently fighting. In order to do so, we can seek out fundraising opportunities, share personal stories, care for our own health, or do something as simple as wearing a pink ribbon.
According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with the disease in her lifetime. Aside from skin cancer, these odds make breast cancer the most common cancer among American women. No one knows exactly what causes the disease. What we do know is that it is always caused by damage to a healthy cell’s DNA.
Certain risk factors can make people more susceptible to developing breast cancer. Gender, age, race, family history, menstrual and reproductive history, certain genome changes, and dense breast tissue may all play a role. The National Breast Cancer Foundation lists avoidable risk factors as lack of physical activity, poor diet, being overweight or obese, drinking alcohol, and combined hormone replacement therapy (HRT). However, it’s important to note that 60-70% of people with breast cancer have no connection to these risk factors.
Fortunately, we do have the power to make a change. It doesn’t take you having to know someone who fought with breast cancer to feel the urgency to take action. It all starts at home by recognizing symptoms and signs. Monthly self-exams are recommended in order to easily identify changes in the breast. If you recognize anything even slightly unusual, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor. Early detection can save your life.
Even if you appear to be healthy and haven’t detected any symptoms, regular screenings should still be a crucial part of your healthcare routine. Your doctor can check for breast cancer even if you haven’t recognized any signs. For example, a mammogram can show a breast lump before it can be felt. The National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends that women 40 and older should have mammograms every 1 or 2 years. Women under 40 with risk factors should inquire with their healthcare professional whether or not mammograms are advisable, and how often to get them.
An abnormal mammogram isn’t a reason to panic, it doesn’t necessarily mean a patient has breast cancer. In fact, lumps are usually non-cancerous, but the only way to be sure is with additional testing. If breast cancer is the diagnosis, the patient’s main responsibility is finding the right healthcare team to oversee the treatment plan. There are currently over 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. It is a dangerous and debilitating disease, but many women (and even men) have been able to successfully overcome it and return to living a normal, healthy life.