October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
The American Cancer Society (ACS) has estimated that approximately 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. According to the ACS, it is estimated that in 2011 alone, nearly 300,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast cancer is quickly becoming the leading cause of new cancer diagnosis and is second only to lung cancer in mortality rate (the number of lives it claims) each year.
Interestingly enough, the majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no known family history of the disease. However, being female automatically puts a person at risk for the disease, and that risk increases with age. Genetics and family history are still very important risk factors. A woman who has a first degree relative, such as a mother, sister, daughter, or cousin who has been diagnosed with breast cancer ( particularly at an early age), will have an increased risk for developing breast cancer. Another risk factor for developing breast cancer is the early onset of puberty and the late onset of menopause both of which increase the window of a woman’s lifetime exposure to estrogen and progesterone. Several other factors that increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer include previous benign breast conditions, obesity, tobacco and alcohol consumption.
Currently, there is no proven effective way to prevent breast cancer. However, women can reduce their risks by making smart, healthy lifestyle changes such as reducing alcohol intake, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy body weight throughout life. Additionally, making prevention a critical part of a woman’s health care protocol can significantly improve her chances of early detection of breast cancer, when treatment is most successful. Presently, mammography is the gold standard in breast cancer screening, and regular, monthly self-breast examinations play an important role in helping early breast cancer detection. For further discussion, please refer to my article on breast cancer screening.
During breast cancer awareness month, be sure to help inform the women in your life of the risks involved in breast cancer, and the benefits of prevention and early detection. By avoiding or reducing the known risk factors, and following the recommended guidelines for early detection, women can help aid in the fight against breast cancer. Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.”