October is Cancer awareness month, and although we should always be raising awareness about this life threatening illness, having a month to campaign and start that conversation can lead to people taking this more seriously. Cancer is that word that nobody wants to hear or knows how to handle, especially when it comes to the most common type: breast cancer.
So, what do you know about breast cancer? Many of us know how close to home breast cancer can come, but sometimes we may not even realize that. This makes breast cancer an acquaintance, and without research and information on prevention and early detection, we may be putting ourselves at a higher risk.
According to a fact sheet from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, “Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the U.S.” and “Women in the U.S., have 1 in the 8-lifetime risk of being diagnosed.” That is not to say that men cannot be diagnosed it just means it is less common.
Because of this, it’s important to be aware of personal risk factors including age, family history, genetic factors, or prior history. The Cancer Care website states that if these risk factors apply to you, they should be discussed with a professional. While there is no simple, foolproof method to prevent breast cancer, there is a set of healthy habits to reduce risk recommended by healthcare professionals such as those offered by Mayo Clinic. This list includes exercising, limiting alcohol intake, and avoiding smoking.
Most of the list resembles suggestions that would normally be offered by health care providers aiming for the patient to live a healthier lifestyle. Besides the list of recommendations, it’s also important to be aware of screening methods for early detection to prevent a worst-case scenario in which treatment will be needed. Time is of the essence to be effectively treated and increase chances of survival.
There is conflict among health organizations about whether monthly self-exams are effective, but if your doctor advises on regular self-checks, action should be taken. These checks ups can help you determine if there is any noticeable change or abnormalities seen or felt such as discharge and lumps. Specific methods for breast checks can be researched or discussed with your doctor.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation website offers instructions on what to look for, so you can always refer to it. It is also suggested to have clinical breast exams done in which the primary care physician (PCP) or nurse practitioner completes a check during a regular visit. Women at the age of 40 and over are recommended to schedule a mammogram annually. In unique cases, breast MRIs and biopsies may be requested for a clearer view and to make sure the lump, if found, is not malignant. No matter the method, breast checks can feel awkward, uncomfortable, and unfamiliar particularly the first few times, but are necessary for early detection.
Earlier this year, the Susan G. Komen Foundation launched a campaign asking “Who’s your one?” to highlight the commonality of the disease since supporters tend to be driven by personal connections to breast cancer. Commonality is also highlighted by the endless breast cancer statistics out there that tell us how common this type of cancer is by ethnicity, gender, age, and other demographic considerations. But without encountering it up close, it’s impossible to understand what it takes to fight.
Whether you have a “one” to support or are just interested in supporting cancer research, there are many ways you can show empathy for the cause. Volunteering, spreading awareness, and giving monetary contributions to public or private institutions are good ways to help. If you are considering supporting a foundation, be sure to do thorough research to make sure you are comfortable with their values and what are they doing and the legitimacy and transparency of the organization.
It doesn’t take a personal story to be an advocate, but it does take the willingness to want to create awareness.
By Aura Altamiranda