Beyond (Breast) Cancer Awareness

October 18, 2022

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about this disease that directly impacts women and men. Approximately 1 of 8 women and 1 of 833 men in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lives; 90,560 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected for 2022 and about 43,780 deaths.

Knowing the risk factors of breast cancer is critical for making health and life choices that reduce the chances of getting cancer. It may also help you and your doctor decide whether you should take a genetic test . It’s important to note that having risk factors does not mean a person will get breast cancer, and not having risk factors doesn’t mean that an individual won’t get breast cancer. Breast cancer risk factors can be divided into two categories: those you can change and those you cannot.

Risk factors you can change: low physical activity; overweight or having obesity after menopause; hormone treatments; reproductive history; alcohol; other factors. Risk factors you cannot change: age; genes; personal and family history; reproductive history; breast density; radiation therapy; diethistilbestrol (DES).

Regardless of risk, a mammogram is the best tool for determining if cancer might be present, especially if you experience symptoms such as a new lump, swelling, irritation, redness or pain in the nipple area, discharge, shape change, or pain.

In support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is encouraging people to find cancer early, when it’s easiest to treat. And that is true for all cancers.

We all know screening for cancer is important. Regular check-ins can find breast, cervical, colorectal (colon), and lung cancers when treatment is likely to work best. As mentioned earlier, mammograms can detect breast cancer, while annual Pap tests are useful in early identification of cervical cancer. There are several options to screen for colorectal cancers including stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and CT colonography. Lung cancer screening using low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) is recommended for some people who are at high risk.

But one of the best preventions: talking! Conversations about any family history of cancer helps with understanding hereditary risk and planning to manage it. The CDC has a webpage here dedicated to talking about your family health history; there’s even a link to this interactive tool providing ways to share information about cancer risk with family members.

While October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, it is also gentle reminder to go beyond awareness. Get motivated, get screened, and get talking. It’s the best way to get beyond cancer.

Sources: Living Beyond Breast Cancer; CDC;