Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Keeping yourself and your loved ones informed
Being educated about breast cancer can literally save your life or the life of someone you love.
Awareness of breast cancer, how it develops, associated risk factors and new research is crucial to understanding a disease that was believed to have killed nearly 40,000 women in the U.S. in 2011. Breast cancer accounts for nearly a third of all cancers diagnosed in women in the US; only lung cancer claims more mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, wives, etc, than breast cancer.
How breast cancer develops
Breast cancer is the mass growth of breast cells. There are several factors involved in these uncontrollable growths, including cellular mutations on the genetic level. Healthy cells are supposed to replace cells that are dying, but gene mutations can impact the cell’s ability to divide properly and can lead to an overproduction of cells. This overproduction of cells leads to the formation of tumors.
Eventually, these cells can impact healthy tissue surrounding the tumor and can work their way into the lymph nodes in the armpit. Lymph nodes are responsible for filtering out foreign substances in the body, and, if cancerous cells reach the lymph nodes, those cells can spread to other areas of the body.
There are many factors that can influence a woman’s susceptibly of developing breast cancer. Things like family history, ethnicity, age and genetics play a role but are obviously things we can’t control. However, there are many things that we can control that can help limit our risk. These include:
- Weight – a BMI over 25 increases risk as there are higher levels of estrogen found in the body
- Pregnancy history – not having a full-term pregnancy or being over 30 when having a first child can impact the production of breast cells
- Drinking alcohol – alcohol can damage DNA in cells and increase the risk of hormone receptor positive breast cancer.
- Eating unhealthy food – did you know that 30% to 40% of all cancers is attributable to our diet?
- Lack of exercise – exercise helps regulate blood sugar and blood levels of a hormone called insulin growth factor, which can impact the development of breast cells.
Breast cancer is one of the most effective and prominent health-related campaigns in the United States. There are so many organizations that promote awareness of breast cancer. Because of our mindfulness of breast cancer, because it is in our collective consciousness, there is always new research being done.
For instance, did you know?
- A new ultrasound screening device for dense breasts has been approved by the FDA?
- Younger women who take fertility drugs are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer?
- Survival outcomes between African-American and White women are greatly impacted by regular screenings?
- An experimental medicine called T-DM1 increases survival rates in women diagnosed with HER2-positive (a specific gene that plays a role in the development of breast cancer) advanced stage breast cancer?
Information on breast cancer abounds. We encourage men and women to keep themselves educated. Breast cancer can affect men too; in 2011 over 2,000 men in the U.S. were diagnosed with breast cancer. While not impacting men directly nearly as much women, breast cancer steals the lives of women they love.
In 2011, over 2.6 million people are proud breast cancer survivors. Early detection and screenings are essential to the continuous improvement of breast cancer survival rates. Are you concerned about costs associated with screenings? Check out the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) to see if you qualify for free or low-cost mammograms.
Want to join the fight against breast cancer? Educate yourself. Stay active by conducting your monthly self-exams and getting regular mammograms. Support those who are fighting this disease by being compassionate and kind. If you can, donate time or money organizations that help fund breast cancer research. And most of all, live with a sense of profound gratitude for all that you have and a deep reverence for all those you love.
Photo credit: The Mayor of Worldwide Breast Cancer