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 2019 it’s projected there will be 268,600 new invasive breast cancer diagnoses in women; there will be 41,760 deaths of women from breast cancer.
In 2019 there will be 2,760 new invasive breast cancer diagnoses for MEN – yes this disease does not discriminate. 500 men will die this year from breast cancer.
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
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.