October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Breast cancer could be called a “family disease.” Not only does breast cancer run in families, but all family members feel the effect of a diagnosis and subsequent treatment. That’s why breast cancer prevention should be considered a family affair. Learn the breast cancer awareness facts, get your relatives involved this October, and take steps to reduce everyone’s risk.
Breast Cancer Awareness Facts
You may have heard this before: One in eight American women will develop an invasive breast cancer during her lifetime. In Tennessee, nearly 1,000 women will die this year from breast cancer. If those two statements alone don’t convince you of the value of having an annual mammogram, consider these additional statistics:
- Nearly 6,000 Tennessee women will be diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer this year.
- Aside from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women.
- One woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every three minutes in America.
- Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in women.
Getting an annual mammogram is one of the most important things you can do for breast health. Mammograms detect cancers early, when they’re much more treatable. These cancer screenings can spare many women from painful surgery, unpleasant chemotherapy treatment or even death.
Concerned about getting your mammogram during COVID? See our article, Should I Get a Mammogram Now?
Why All the Pink
Prepare to see a lot of pink during October as people wear rosy ribbons and other pink gear to promote breast cancer awareness. The concept of using colored ribbons to signify support for various causes gained steam in the early 1990s. The Susan G. Komen Foundation debuted the pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness at that time. Over the ensuing decades, people from all walks of life have donned pink during October to honor women who succumbed to breast cancer and to raise awareness of the importance of prevention – including getting regular mammograms.
What You Can Do
Many breast cancer cases could be prevented by evaluating your risk for the disease, regularly focusing on breast health and openly sharing information within your family. In honor of breast cancer awareness month, resolve to take the following steps to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
- Step One: Talk to Your Doctor
No matter your age, you should talk with your primary care provider or gynecologist about your risk. To prepare for this conversation, you should know your family history of breast cancer – and not just on your mother’s side. Your risk for breast cancer rises if you have any direct relatives, on either side of your family, who were diagnosed with breast cancer.
You should also read up on other risk factors for breast cancer to discuss them with your doctor. A few of the factors that can raise your risk include:
- Age – women over age 50 have a higher risk of developing breast cancer;
- Personal history of ovarian cancer
- Early onset of menstruation (before age 11), coupled with late menopause (after age 55)
- First pregnancy after age 35
- Using hormone replacement therapy during perimenopause or menopause
- Dense breasts
- Being overweight
Knowing about these risk factors can help you evaluate your own risk and have a meaningful conversation with your doctor about minimizing your chance of getting breast cancer.
- Step Two: Adopt the Habit of Breast Self-Exams
Be honest with yourself: Over the past year, did you perform a breast self-exam every month? If you did, then kudos to you! Keep up the good work.
But if you didn’t (as so many women don’t), then pledge to adopt a new habit by performing a breast self-exam once a month. This simple, five-minute procedure can help you detect cancer early – and it also can help you find non-cancerous breast conditions that merit evaluation by a doctor. A few of the conditions you might notice include:
- Cysts – fluid-filled growths beneath the skin
- Intraductal papillomas – small growths within the milk ducts
- Phyllodes tumors – benign growths in the breast’s connective tissue
- Sclerosing adenosis – lumps in the milk sacs
You should perform breast self-exams even if you get regular mammograms. But since younger women don’t receive routine mammos, it’s even more important they perform regular breast checks. Aim to conduct a breast self-exam once a month, generally three to five days after your period starts. If you notice any changes to your breast tissue, then schedule an appointment with your doctor.
- Step Three: Talk to Your Family Members About Breast Cancer and Mammograms
Knowing your family history of breast cancer is crucial to evaluating your personal risk. Still, many family members consider it impolite or even invasive to ask relatives about their health history. To overcome this uncomfortable feeling, start the conversation by talking about distant ancestors or yourself. Try these conversation starters:
- “Does anyone know what Grandma’s mother died from?”
- “I’ve heard it said that Great-grandpa’s mother died from cancer. Does anyone know if that’s true?”
- “I was talking to my doctor the other day about my breast cancer risk and was wondering if we have any family history of it. Can you tell me?”
In addition to obtaining family cancer history details, you can support women in your family by talking openly about the importance of mammograms.
Tell your relatives that you got your mammogram done (and it was negative, thank goodness!). Urge others to do the same. You even could rally your family to make October mammogram month. Host a virtual or socially distanced party to celebrate everyone getting their mammos done for the year.
This year, take breast cancer awareness month to a new level by learning your family history of breast cancer, performing self-exams and getting an annual mammogram. By practicing good breast health, you set a living example to inspire the other women in your family to do the same.
Author: Elizabeth Hanes, BSN RN
Medically reviewed by Dr. Seth Means