October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Here’s What You Need to Know
Fall is here (theoretically in Texas) but even more importantly, October is dedicated to breast cancer awareness. Every year it becomes an even bigger movement – you’ll see NFL teams wearing pink shoes, gloves, and attire, hospitals buy pink gloves to wear at the bedside, and many breast cancer walks like the Susan G. Komen race for the cure all happen this month.
So… what is cancer exactly?
To break it down, cancer occurs when any cell proliferates/grows beyond its designated duty. Cells divide as part of our normal growth and daily lives, but think of it as a cell going into hyper mode and encroaching on other cells’ personal space. RUDE. It’s like when someone breathes down your neck in the grocery line or takes the arm rest on an airplane; invasive. It’s still unknown specifically how or why cancer occurs in an individual, but risk factors can certainly contribute.
Some Disturbing Facts
1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in her/their lifetime.
More than 3.8 million women have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the leading cause for all cancer deaths in Hispanic women.
African American women die from breast cancer 40% more.
On average, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every 2 minutes.
Every 13 minutes a woman dies from breast cancer.
In 2020, an estimated 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 48,530 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer. About 42,170 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2020 from breast cancer.
About 2,620 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in MEN in 2020. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 883 – yes this disease does not discriminate.
A woman’s risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Shockingly though, 85% of breast cancers occur in women without any family history.
Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. In 2020, it’s estimated that about 30% of newly diagnosed cancers in women will be breast cancers.
First and foremost, being a woman and growing older are the two biggest risk factors in developing breast cancer. UNFAIR.
About 5% to 10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary, caused by abnormal genes passed from parent to child like the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene. The function of the BRCA genes is to repair cell damage and keep breast, ovarian, and other cells growing normally. But when these genes contain mutations that are passed from generation to generation, the genes don’t function normally and breast, ovarian, and other cancer risk increases. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations may account for up to 10% of all breast cancers, or 1 out of every 10 cases.
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, you’re 3 to 4 times more likely to develop a new cancer in the other breast or a different part of the same breast.
Overweight and obese women have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women who maintain a healthy weight, especially after menopause. Being overweight also can increase the risk of the breast cancer coming back (recurrence) in women who have had the disease.
Research shows a link between exercising regularly at a moderate or intense level for 4 to 7 hours per week and a lower risk of breast cancer. Endorphins are amazing for our moods, our immune system, and our cardiac health – so overall a win!
Research has shown that dense breasts can be twice as likely to develop cancer as non-dense breasts and can make it harder for mammograms to detect breast cancer.
White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African American, Hispanic, and Asian women. But African American women are more likely to develop more aggressive, more advanced-stage breast cancer that is diagnosed at a young age.
Women who haven’t had a full-term pregnancy or have their first child after age 30 have a higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who gave birth before age 30.
Breastfeeding can lower breast cancer risk, especially if a woman breastfeeds for longer than 1 year.
Current or recent past users of HRT (hormone replacement therapy) have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully, since 2002 when research linked HRT and risk, the number of women taking HRT has dropped dramatically.
Women who started menstruating (having periods) younger than age 12 have a higher risk of breast cancer later in life. The same is true for women who go through menopause when they’re older than 55.
Research consistently shows that drinking alcoholic beverages — beer, wine, and liquor — increases a woman’s risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.
What Can You Do?
First and foremost: get to know your anatomy as in YOUR body and what is normal for how you’re made. Breast cancer can show itself in a variety of forms that are quite visible. Soooo.. knowing your normal makes it easier to spot something abnormal and thus cause for worry or investigation.
I love this lemon example that I first saw floating around on Facebook last year. I’m a very visual person so these various lemons really depict great representations of things to be on the lookout for. So basically any new lumps/bumps/discharge/pain from your breasts or nipples needs a conversation with your physician.
Keep in Mind
Not all lumps or bumps are cancerous aka they’re benign. That being said, it is imperative to get them checked regardless. Some benign breast conditions can cause pain or even mimic signs or symptoms of breast cancer. These benign conditions can range from cysts to tumors – and a biopsy will ultimately rule out anything worrisome.
Breast cancer can be in situ meaning it’s in one place. For example, lobular carcinoma in situ occurs in the breast lobules that are responsible for producing milk. The cancer is only in the lobules and hasn’t spread to other breast tissues or organs.
Breast cancer can be invasive meaning it has spread from its area origin, let’s use the lobules again, and has invaded more breast tissue outside of the lobules.
Breast cancer becomes metastatic when it progresses beyond the breast tissue and axillary lymph nodes. The cancer spreads via the bloodstream, which as we know, feeds the entire body. This makes early detection all the more important especially in terms of prognosis.
Happily, thanks to ever-advancing medicine and healthcare technology, the five-year survival rate for women with breast cancer is 90 PERCENT!!
Yearly clinical breast examinations including mammography begins at age 40!
Women often detect breast cancers themselves, so don’t underestimate the importance of a monthly breast self-exam!
Some helpful resources regarding breast cancer and information can be found at http://beyondtheshock.com
National Breast Cancer Foundation works diligently to provide mammogram services all over the country to women of limited means as well as programs with patient navigators to help guide women through the entire process should something serious be found. NO ONE should feel like they can’t get themselves checked because of their circumstances. Look into their program.
Also check out the National Cancer Institute info on mammograms.
The American Cancer Society is always a fantastic resource for any and all cancer-related information and questions!
The Patient Assistance Network Foundation is an incredible network. I’ve worked with them for numerous previous patients of my own and they make so many therapies affordable and possible for those of limited incomes. If cost is a worry – give them a call!
The Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition is another financial resource to investigate when and if you or a loved one needs help!
Lastly, call your local hospital and ask to speak to a social worker. They’re connected to various financial support programs and can offer beneficial advice and help.
*I just wanted to add this in here* The 23 and Me genetic profiling kit has become increasingly popular. It’s even noted to test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. HOWEVER this test does not pick up all genetic variants of the gene. There are thousands of BRCA variants, 23 and Me only covers 3-4. SO don’t base your future picture of health on a home test. I think 23 and Me is awesome for gaining a foundation of knowledge in regards to your personal genome or creating a platform to discuss in depth with your care provider – but you should always consult with a primary care provider for more definitive answers and never base medical decisions from the test.
October 3, 2019 @ 2:37 pm
Thanks for this I had an aunt that Passed away from breast cancer. This means a lot to me and I always make sure to get my breast checked every year.
October 4, 2019 @ 11:48 am
I’m really sorry for your loss!!
October 3, 2019 @ 9:31 pm
It’s so important to continue to raise awareness. Not only does it help people with early detection but it also gets much needed finds to researchers.
October 4, 2019 @ 11:48 am
yes that’s true!
October 4, 2019 @ 12:34 am
This is such an important and informative post about the danger of cancer and ways to protect yourself. Cancer is something that affects so many people and it is so important to stay in the know on how to detect the early signs of cancer! My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer so this hits really close to home!
cute & little
October 4, 2019 @ 11:49 am
Oh Kileen I didn’t know that. Keeping her and your family in my prayers!!
October 4, 2019 @ 9:02 am
Everyone should read this post, so much good information! Thank you for sharing! My mom had breast cancer and my grandfather actually had it as well – so I am almost 30 and will have my first mamogram when I turn 30 because of the high risk.
October 4, 2019 @ 11:50 am
Oh wow – I hope they both are well now? I haven’t researched much on the actual treatment path for men – if you don’t mind me asking, what did he go through?
October 4, 2019 @ 9:04 am
I so appreciate how detailed this post was. I’ve always wondered exactly WHAT I’m looking for when doing a self-check, but that illustration with the photo of the lemons was really helpful. It’s scary to think about how many women end up with breast cancer in their life. I certainly want to be on the safe side and check often to prevent anything from getting worse if I DO feel it.
October 4, 2019 @ 11:51 am
I first saw that lemon example floating around on Facebook last year and thought it was the best representation for what you’re actually looking for!! I’m so glad you like it too!
October 4, 2019 @ 10:13 am
Thank you for sharing all of this information. One of my good friends had breast cancer, went through chemo, they thought she beat it. About a month ago she found out she has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Very little funding or research goes into metastatic cancer right now so we are working hard to spread the word. Most research right now is focused on prevention and treatment for early stages of breast cancer, but not towards a cure for the currently terminal metastasis. I think it’s about 30% of women with breast cancer will reach stage 4… so it really is something that more research should be done for.
October 4, 2019 @ 11:54 am
I’m so, so sorry to hear that. My mother in law passed away from metastatic lymphoma – different beast but same picture over all. I’m really hoping that as medicine becomes more targeted towards our specific genomes that the tough diseases and metastatic diseases start responding better to therapies. There are so many breakthroughs waiting on the horizon but unfortunately it isn’t soon enough. Keeping your friend in my prayers!
October 4, 2019 @ 10:29 am
I appreciate your thoroughness with this issue. I had no idea that so many women were diagnosed each year. I have a close friend who found a lump and cancer this year. Early detection is key!
October 4, 2019 @ 11:54 am
Early detection is EVERYTHING! I hope she is okay!
October 4, 2019 @ 10:32 am
You’re right, those facts are really disturbing. Breast cancer runs in my family on both sides so that makes me nervous for myself and future daughters. That lemon visual is really helpful!
October 4, 2019 @ 11:55 am
it’s scary and makes it all the more pressing to know your body. I really liked the lemons too!
October 11, 2019 @ 9:27 am
Such an incredibly important topic to raise awareness about!
October 11, 2019 @ 3:21 pm
What an informative post! It’s so important to be aware of our own bodies and do these check ups!
October 14, 2020 @ 11:43 am
THank you so much for thispost! It is so important to raise awareness and educate people on how to check for signs!
October 14, 2020 @ 11:51 am
Huh, I definitely should do more self breast exams. I never think about it, and will definitely add this to my self-care list.
October 14, 2020 @ 3:59 pm
I know a lot of women my age and a little older who have had breast cancer so its for sure something I realize is so comon! Thank you for sharing.
Jennifer L Prince
October 14, 2020 @ 4:22 pm
It’s so important to be aware and take getting checked seriously! Fab reminders.
Indya | The Small Adventurer
October 14, 2020 @ 11:13 pm
Wow, this was jam-packed of information that I didn’t know! I actually thought the death rate for breast cancer was a lot lower. As horrible as cancer is (I have a friend who was diagnosed with a different kind of inoperable cancer was a teenager), I for some reason thought breast cancer had a high survival rate, so this has really scared me “straight” into doing more home checks! I don’t actually know anyone with it, but if anything, that makes it MORE scarier, as it’s got to be around the corner somewhere with these kind of statistics. It’s definitely going to be on my mind a lot more from now on!
October 15, 2020 @ 7:09 am
I love how informative this was! My lovely doctor as embedded in my brain since I have started to see her at 18 that EARLY DETECTION SAVES LIVES! We have to make sure that we know what to look for.
October 15, 2020 @ 8:31 am
Definitely important to share info like this. One of my good friends has metastatic breast cancer – she is 32 and will live with this the rest of her life. I’ve found it’s really good to spread the word about this stage of breast cancer because it affects many women and their treatment will never stop since there is no cure. I donate every year to Metavivor to support this area of research and awareness since not as many people know about it.
October 15, 2020 @ 10:23 am
This is such an informative post. I just had my breasts checked a few months ago, and all was good, but I’m so glad that I self check regularly and know what to look for!
October 19, 2020 @ 10:18 am
Thank you for sharing such important info and I think everyone should read this post!