October: National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

“The Breast Cancer Awareness Month, marked in countries across the world every October, helps to increase attention and support for the awareness, early detection and treatment as well as palliative care of this disease.” World Health Organization

Global Breast Cancer Rates, 2018

The chart above by the Global Cancer Observatory, World Health Organization gives us a glimpse into the global prevalence of breast cancer and the extent of its effects. Based on the last five years, Asia has the highest rate of breast cancer prevalence while Oceania has the lowest.

The purpose of the month-long health campaign is to raise awareness about the disease and money for funding future research. Fundraising and campaigning have been especially successful in the United States. Major charitable organizations like the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen Foundation, and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation organize events across the country. Throughout this month, people wear pink ribbons to signify their solidarity for those affected by breast cancer.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer occurs when the cells in the breast tissue start dividing uncontrollably. It is second-most common cancer among women in the United States.

How to detect Breast Cancer?

Mammograms are X-ray of the breast. It is considered to be the best method for early detection of cancer. Sometimes breast MRIs are also used in conjunction with mammograms. Clinical breast exams are also routinely performed as a preventative measure by doctors during annual physical examinations.

American Cancer Society’s guidelines for early detection of breast cancer. Screening tests are used to find cancer before a person has any symptoms. Women should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel. Any breast lumps should be reported to a healthcare provider right away.

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  • Age 40-44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so.
  • Age 45-54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Age 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years or can continue yearly screening.

Who is at high risk of developing Breast Cancer?

According to the CDC, the risk of developing breast cancer can increase due to the following factors:

  • Old age
  • A personal history of breast cancer, dense breasts, or some other breast problems.
  • A family history of breast cancer (parent, sibling, or child)
  • Inherited changes in breast cancer-related genes (BRCA1 or BRCA2)
    • Assess your risk of having a BRCA mutation, Know: BRCA
  • Extended exposure of breast tissue to estrogen made by the body
    • Having your first menstrual period before age 12
    • Never giving birth, or being older when your first child is born.
    • Starting menopause after age 55.
  • Taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
  • Taking hormones to replace missing estrogen and progesterone in menopause for more than five years.
  • Radiation therapy to the breast or chest
  • Being overweight, especially after menopause.

Treatment for Breast Cancer

Based on the severity of cancer, there are various methods to treat breast cancer

  1. Surgery is used to cut out cancer tissues and can be very effective when the cancer cells haven’t spread to other organs. In 2013, Angeline Jolie underwent preventative double mastectomy because she had a BRCA mutation that put her at a high risk of breast cancer.
  2. Chemotherapy uses targeted oral or IV medication to shrink the cancer cells
  3. Hormonal therapy is used to block the cancer cells from getting the hormones they require to grow and divide.
  4. Biological therapy worked with the body’s immune system to target cancer cells
  5. Radiation therapy is used to kill the cancer cells directly. It also weakens the individual’s immune system as the harmful rays destroy all cells in its path.
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