October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Beyond the pink ribbons, special product fundraisers, and the pastel sea of color that marks October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month offers a reason to celebrate and to reflect.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month celebrates the 3.5 million survivors of breast cancer, and emphasizes the need to continue research to cure the disease.

More than 3.5 million breast cancer survivors live in the U.S. They are survivors of the second most-common cancer in women, behind skin cancer, and survival rates continue to climb due to better treatments and increased screening that finds cancers when they are most treatable.

Another reason credited for the increased survival rates: awareness. With women becoming more knowledgeable about warning signs, the importance of self-exams, treatment options and second opinions, they are better prepared than ever before to confront a breast cancer diagnosis – something an estimated one in eight women will do in their lifetime.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors:

Being a Woman
The leading risk factor for breast cancer is simply being a woman. Though breast cancer does occur in men, the disease is 100 times more common in women than in men.

Risk of breast cancer increases with age. According to the American Cancer Society, most breast cancers are found in women above the age of 55.

Inherited Genes
About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers can be traced to specific, inherited gene mutations, such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.

Race and Ethnicity
While non-Hispanic white women have higher rates of breast cancer incidence, African-American women have a higher incidence rate before age 40 and are more likely to die from breast cancer at every age.

Family History
Although about 8 out of 10 women diagnosed do not have a family history of the disease; those who have close blood relatives with breast cancer have a higher risk. According to the American Cancer Society:

  • Having a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer almost doubles a woman’s risk. Having 2 first-degree relatives increases her risk about 3-fold.
  • Women with a father or brother who have had breast cancer also have a higher risk of getting it.

The risk of overweight women developing breast cancer after menopause is 1.5 times higher than in lean women. Obese women are at twice the risk of lean women.

Exercise reduces breast cancer risk for women of all body types – even lean women, according to Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., director of cancer etiology at City of Hope.

Risk of breast cancer increases with alcohol intake. Compared to non-drinkers, women who consume 2 to 3 drinks a day have about a 20% higher risk compared to women who don’t drink alcohol. Those who have 1 alcoholic drink a day have a slight increase in risk as well.

Minimizing alcohol intake is recommended to control risk. That means at the most, one glass of wine, one beer or one hard liquor drink per day. (Drinking seven drinks in one day and none the rest of the week is not OK.)

Not Breastfeeding
Research suggests breastfeeding for a year or more slightly reduces overall risk of breast cancer – about a 4.3 percent reduction for every 12 months of breastfeeding. This is potentially because breastfeeding often interrupts periods, meaning fewer menstrual cycles and less estrogen exposure. Others suggest that the reduced risk can be credited to structural changes in the breast after lactation and weaning.

Birth Control
Some contraceptives that use hormones, such as oral, birth control shots, implants, intrauterine devices (IUDs), skin patches, or vaginal rings can potentially increase the risk of breast cancer.

Know Your Body:
With eight out of 10 breast lumps discovered by women themselves, don’t underestimate the importance of a monthly breast self-exam. By becoming more familiar with your breast tissue and appearance, you will be more likely to notice changes should they occur.

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, a second opinion could save your life.


Live your best life!
Joanna Cavacini, RN, MSN


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