October is not a month of black and white. We definitely see lots of ghosts, goblins, witches, and skeletons, but reds, yellows, oranges, and pinks (#BreastCancerAwareness) own this time. These colors open our eyes and make us aware of our surroundings and ourselves. And while you can pretty much count on the leaves changing year after year, you want to make sure you don’t ignore any changes in your body, particularly your breasts. Here are the eight facts every woman should know about breast cancer.
- One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. And while this number as a ratio or a percentage may not seem all that impressive to you, think about it in everyday terms. Count the number of mats or bikes in your exercise class. If each row holds about 16 people and there are about three rows in the class, then about six people per class will be diagnosed with breast cancer over the course of their lifetime! And without even saying, “Boo,” those numbers are pretty scary.
- It’s pretty safe to say that we all know someone who has or had breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and the second-leading cause of cancer death in women. Put it this way: every two minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, and every 13 minutes, a woman will die of breast cancer.
- Once again, age matters. The older you are, the more likely you are to be diagnosed with breast cancer. In fact, the majority of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are older than 50, and the median age of diagnosis in the United States is 61. However, while less than 5% of women are under the age of 40, young women get breast cancer as well. Bottom line; don’t ignore your breasts just because you haven’t reached the big 4-0.
- Screening saves lives. Period. Putting off your mammogram only puts you at increased risk for breast cancer. Don’t be foolish (now we sound like our mothers!). Get checked out. And for you younger ladies (less than 40), it is NEVER too early to give your breasts their own monthly exam, and make sure you see a health care provider who does so once a year. If you feel something, say something.
- What you eat, what you drink, and if you sweat matter. Obesity, high alcohol intake, and a sedentary lifestyle are all risk factors for breast cancer. So if you needed more motivation to move and make healthy food choices, here you go. Come on, ladies, let’s get moving!
- Your chromosomes dictate a whole lot more than whether you produce sperm or eggs. There are genes on those 46 chromosomes (23 from mom and 23 from dad) that increase your risk for cancer. Harboring one of these genetic mutations—think BRCA-1 and BRCA-2—does not mean you will get breast cancer, but it can significantly increase your risk. And while nearly 65% of breast cancers occur in women with no risk factors, if you know you or your family member carries the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 mutation, you should be screened early and frequently for breast cancer. Make sure your GYN knows everything about your family history (trust us, your secrets are safe with us!).
- When your period first presents itself and parts ways with you (a.k.a. menarche and menopause) can alter your risk for breast cancer. Women who have an early period or a late menopause are at a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. While you shouldn’t panic if you see red early or late, it is something important to keep in mind. Additionally, women who don’t have children or who have their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. While this statistic should not dictate when you decide to do the baby thing, it’s something we GYNs make a mental note of.
- Breast cancer does not equal infertility. While the diagnosis used to mark the end to one’s reproductive days, we now have ways to cryopreserve (a.k.a. freeze) eggs and embryos. This technology can safely be used prior to any chemotherapy or radiation that may harm the ovaries. With advances in diagnosis and treatment, breast cancer does not always mean the end to a woman’s reproductive road.
Breast cancer treatment is evolving every day. It is truly (#ourFAVORITEword) amazing. We take our hats off to our friends, the scientists and physicians, who have revolutionized how we diagnose, treat, and ultimately cure breast cancer. Because of their smarts and hard work, what we know now pales compared to what we knew five years ago. And while you may never meet these fantastic men and women who have dedicated their lives to making us all safer and healthier, we at Truly, MD, can make you aware of what they have found and how it can impact you.
So do us a favor and check out your breasts. While the presence of certain risk factors (particularly those listed above) increase one’s risk for breast cancer, nearly 75% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer possess NO risk factors. Therefore take a moment to stop and feel your breasts on a monthly basis. Although what they have won’t impress you (unlike that fall foliage that October is known for), if they do you will act quickly. Early detection of breast cancer can save your life. So think pink and make a point to do self-breast exams and get screened—it may just ensure that you see the leaves change for years and years to come.