This October, join the tidal-wave movement in the fight against breast cancer. Nearly all of us have been touched by someone who has been diagnosed with this disease. Joining forces is an excellent and empowering way to stay informed, promote early detection and support your local breast cancer community. Here are some ways you can celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.
Understanding Breast Cancer
Understanding breast cancer and its risk factors is an important first step in early detection. Breast cancer occurs when excess cell growth in the breast forms a tumor. Often, these tumors grow very slowly, sometimes for up to 10 years before they can be detected with a self breast exam. However, other forms of breast cancer grow and spread much more aggressively. Most breast cancers (approximately 80%) start in the milk ducts while 10% begin in the lobules and another 10% start in other breast tissue.
Invasive breast cancer occurs when this abnormal cell growth extends from the ducts or lobules into other breast tissue. At this point, cancerous cells can work their way through the body via the bloodstream and lymphatic system. In the case of invasive breast cancer, the lymph nodes in the underarm area are typically the first place a patient will experience the cancer spreading. Metastatic breast cancer happens when invasive breast cancer spreads beyond the breast tissue and lymph nodes to other parts of the body.
Identifying Risk Factors
There are a variety of risk factors that can contribute to the development of breast cancer. Those with a family history need to be particularly diligent about preventive care and self breast checks. Other risk factors include (but are certainly not limited to):
- Being born female (although men can get breast cancer, it is much more common in women)
- Being overweight or obese
- Age – as you get older, you become more likely to develop breast cancer
- Drinking alcohol
- Menopausal hormone therapy
- Having dense breast tissue
- Starting menstrual periods early
- Going through menopause later
The good news is, there are factors that have been shown to reduce your risk of breast cancer, including:
- Consistent exercise
- A diet rich in fruits and vegetables
Latest Research and Statistics
About one in every eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime making it the most common cancer in the world. In 2023 alone, cancer.org estimates that approximately 297,790 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women. About 55,720 new cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) will be diagnosed, and roughly 43,700 women will die from the disease.
The Pink Ribbon
Over the years, a small, simple symbol has raised global awareness and solidarity in overcoming breast cancer – the pink ribbon. Wearing a pink ribbon, or simply wearing pink, during the month of October helps show your support for those battling the disease.
Promote Early Detection
Perhaps the most powerful tool we have in our fight against breast cancer is catching the disease early, before it has a chance to spread throughout the body. Talk with your physician about the ways you can incorporate early breast cancer detection into your health and wellness routine. Some key things to consider are:
- Mammograms – This x-ray image of the breast helps healthcare providers detect breast cancer before patients can feel a lump or changes in breast tissue. Current recommendations for women are annual mammograms starting at 40 years old.
- Self exams – You are your biggest defender in breast cancer prevention. Start with a monthly self breast exam. This free and easy test is an excellent way to establish baseline breast health and detect any changes in your body.
- Examine your breasts in a mirror, making sure you don’t see any changes in size, shape, or color.
- Then raise your arms over your head and examine breasts again.
- Look for any signs of breast fluid or discharge.
- Feel for lumps in your breasts and under-arm lymphatic area while lying down with an arm raised over your head. A circular motion or using the pads of your fingers can help detect unnatural tissue.
- And then palpate your breasts while you’re in the shower, again with one arm raised over your head.
- Genetic testing – For those with a family history of breast cancer, genetic testing can be a good way to get as much information as possible about your genetic predisposition to the disease. Talk with your primary care provider or a genetic counselor about the potential benefits.
Turning 40? Regular Screenings Save Lives.
If you're turning 40 this year, ask about your FREE mammogram as our gift to you! Talk to your doctor about scheduling your annual mammogram. If you have questions about the Breast Center at Aspen Valley Hospital, call one of our Breast Navigators at 970.544.1420.
Support Local Fundraisers
Breast cancer research has gained tremendous momentum in recent decades, and has also made great strides in treatments available. This is due in large part to non-profit organizations that focus on the cause. These organizations often also provide support for those battling breast cancer. If you or someone you know has been affected by breast cancer, consider supporting a local breast cancer awareness fundraiser this October. If you can’t attend a charity walk or run in person, donating money to the cause is an easy and effective way to give back. And if you have a specific skill set or talent that might benefit your local breast cancer organization, pro bono work is always appreciated.
Share Stories of Hope
As the treatments for breast cancer become more and more advanced, it is increasingly important to share stories of triumph and hope. Breast cancer can be a debilitating disease, and providing those battling it with outlets for support is incredibly valuable. Oftentimes, simply sharing a story on social media, with local news outlets, book clubs or cancer support groups can give others hope or important information in their cancer journey. Doing so can also provide a gateway to a clinical trial or financial assistance program.
Go Beyond October
While October is officially Breast Cancer Awareness Month, our support of the cause doesn’t have to end after 31 days. You can keep the momentum going and sustain the fight against breast cancer by engaging with breast cancer awareness groups year-round. Whether you have been personally affected by breast cancer, or you know a friend or loved one who has, your involvement in the fight against it is vital in inspiring change and hope for a breast cancer-free future. Learn more about breast cancer prevention, early detection, and other ways you can maintain breast health.