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October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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Bobbie Byrd

We've all seen the little pink ribbons that pop up every October to remind us that breast cancer continues to harm women around the world, but honoring breast cancer awareness month is so much more than that. One of the best ways to raise awareness about this devastating and all-too-common disease is information - so keep reading to learn more!

History Of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

In 1985, the American Cancer Society and former First Lady Betty Ford launched the first ever week-long event to inform women about breast cancer. A survivor herself, Betty Ford received her diagnosis during her husband's tenure in the White House and her illness is what aided in bringing initial attention to breast cancer. From its inception, the event aimed to educate people about breast cancer and stress the importance of early detection, particularly advocating for regularly scheduled mammograms. 

Today, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a time for survivors and those currently battling breast cancer to come together, share their stories and celebrate their victories. In addition, the annual event encourages funding for healthcare research and supports other causes that help breast cancer patients achieve a better quality of life.

Breast Cancer: Facts and Statistics

With the exception of skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common! According to the American Cancer Society, the average woman in the U.S. has a 13% chance of developing breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Here are some quick facts to remember: 

  • About 255,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the U.S.
  • Nearly 42,000 women die from breast cancer in the U.S. each year.
  • Breast cancer can strike at any age, but most cases are found in women aged 50 or older.
  • Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in women

Death rates from breast cancer amongst women below the age of 50 have remained steady since 2007. However, in older women, the rate has decreased by one percent per year from 2013 to 2018. These declines are likely related to early screening, increased awareness and improvements in treatments over time.

Risk Factors

Multiple factors may contribute to the development of breast cancer, but there are some ways you can lower your risk while other factors are beyond your control. Let's take a look at some of the things you can and cannot change:

Things You Cannot Change

  • Aging. We all do it; you can't stop it - your risk for breast cancer increases with age. 
  • Reproductive history. Hormones raise the risk for breast cancer. When menstruation begins before age 12 or you enter menopause after age 55, you're exposed to hormones longer.
  • Dense breasts. This is a condition in which there is more connective tissue in your breasts than fatty tissue. Dense breasts can make it difficult to identify tumors on a mammogram, increasing the chance of breast cancer being undetected.
  • Genetic mutations. Certain inherited genetic mutations can increase the risk for breast cancer.
  • Family or personal medical history. If you have a mother, sister or daughter who has had breast or ovarian cancer, you may be at higher risk.

Things You Can Do To Lower Your Risk

  • Sedentary lifestyle. Women who are not physically active are at higher risk for breast cancer.
  • Overweight or obese after menopause. If you're overweight or obese as you enter your post-menopausal years, you may be at higher risk for breast cancer.
  • Hormonal therapy. Some hormone replacement therapies taken during menopause can increase the risk of breast cancer when taken for more than five years. 
  • Oral contraceptives. Some oral birth control pills may increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Alcohol. A woman's risk for breast cancer rises with higher alcohol consumption.

If you notice a change in your breasts or you find a lump upon self-examination, make an appointment with your doctor immediately for evaluation. Even if you recently had a mammogram that was normal, you should visit your physician promptly for a check-up.

Survivors' Stories

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face."  Eleanor Roosevelt

During breast cancer awareness month and throughout the year, breast cancer survivors share their stories and offer help to newly diagnosed breast cancer victims. From call-in helplines to online support groups to in-person education programs and support meetings, women are there to offer information, encouragement, a shoulder to cry on as well as resources to help their fellow women in the fight against breast cancer.

Resources For Breast Cancer Awareness and Advocacy

Need information on breast cancer? Looking for resources to help you cope with your diagnosis? Want to get in touch with other breast cancer survivors? The National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. is a good place to start.

Other resources available include:

You don't have to wait for October to roll around to lend your support to those who have breast cancer. Check with your local hospitals and clinics for information on nearby aid or find an online community. As more people take part in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, everyone's efforts will stimulate better understanding about the condition, more women will pursue early detection, advanced research will influence treatments and people affected by the disease can more easily gain hope in their fight. 

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