Every year we take the month of October to raise awareness around breast cancer by donning a pink ribbon, walking for a cure, or honoring someone we know who’s been faced with the diagnosis — or all three. Too many people have been touched by breast cancer for it not to be on the minds of all of us this October. Personally, I have a friend under 40 who’s battling it as I type this, so this month is especially important to me this year.
Breast cancer is the second most common kind of cancer in women. About 1 in 8 women born in the United States today will get breast cancer at some point in their lives. The good news is that many women can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early. A mammogram – the screening test for breast cancer – can help find breast cancer early when it’s easier to treat.
According to the American Cancer society, “Certain inherited DNA mutations can dramatically increase the risk for developing certain cancers and are responsible for many of the cancers that run in some families. For example, the BRCA genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) are tumor suppressor genes. A mutation in one of these genes can be inherited from a parent. When one of these genes are mutated, it no longer suppresses abnormal growth, and cancer is more likely to develop.” This mutation is akin to a genetic predisposition to breast cancer, NOT a guarantee that you will get it (nor is the absence a guarantee that you WON’T get it). These mutations are not the most common cause of breast cancer, however tests have been developed to help patients with a prevalence of breast cancer in their family find out if they carry this mutation.
It’s still unknown exactly what causes the mutations that lead to breast cancer, but research is being done every day to help pin down how we can prevent its occurrence. While doctors and scientists have been able to identify common risk factors, it’s worth noting that not all women (or men) with these risk factors end up with breast cancer.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation lists the following risk factors:
- Gender: Breast cancer occurs nearly 100 times more often in women than in men.
- Age: Two out of three women with invasive cancer are diagnosed after age 55.
- Race: Breast cancer is diagnosed more often in caucasian women than women of other races.
- Family History and Genetic Factors: If your mother, sister, father or child has been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, you have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the future. Your risk increases if your relative was diagnosed before the age of 50.
- Personal Health History: If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the other breast in the future. Also, your risk increases if abnormal breast cells have been detected before (such as atypical hyperplasia, lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)).
- Menstrual and Reproductive History: Early menstruation (before age 12), late menopause (after 55), having your first child at an older age, or never having given birth can also increase your risk for breast cancer.
- Certain Genome Changes: Mutations in certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, can increase your risk for breast cancer. This is determined through a genetic test, which you may consider taking if you have a family history of breast cancer. Individuals with these gene mutations can pass the gene mutation onto their children.
- Dense Breast Tissue: Having dense breast tissue can increase your risk for breast cancer and make lumps harder to detect. Several states have passed laws requiring physicians to disclose to women if their mammogram indicates that they have dense breasts so that they are aware of this risk. Be sure to ask your physician if you have dense breasts and what the implications of having dense breasts are.
How to Stay Healthy
The National Cancer Institute recommends the following measures for breast cancer prevention:
- Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity increases the risk of breast cancer, especially in postmenopausal women who have not used hormone replacement therapy.
- Minimize alcohol: Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. The level of risk rises as the amount of alcohol consumed rises.
- Breastfeed your babies: Estrogen levels may remain lower while a woman is breast-feeding. Women who breastfed have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who have had children but did not breastfeed.
- Get plenty of exercise: Women who exercise four or more hours a week have a lower risk of breast cancer. The effect of exercise on breast cancer risk may be greatest in premenopausal women who have normal or low body weight.
AHS Thinks Pink
In observation of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Healthy Me! has teamed up with the Health Navigators and Health Educators at AHS to make this the pinkest month of the year. Employees can find the official press release for the entire month’s festivities on the home page of the intranet! Below are some images from last year’s Think Pink Wednesdays.