by Mila Sanchez
Sometimes when you hear of a disease, you think, “oh that’s terrible,” but then don’t think of it more than that – that is, until it touches your life in a personal way. That’s how I was. As a germaphobe and a hypochondriac, I actually purposefully would not look into diseases because I would stress about what I learned for weeks, and that’s basically how I treated breast cancer as well. Just chose not to look into it. But then, someone very close to me was diagnosed with a late stage of breast cancer, and suddenly I knew I needed to do as much research as possible.
Since this diagnosis, I’ve met several people who have had, or knows someone close to them who has had, a breast cancer diagnosis, and that makes sense as it is one of the most common types of cancer. According to breastcancer.org, 1 in 8 women will develop cancer in their lifetime.
This is a scary number, but the good news is that the death rate has been going down in recent years. In fact, rates have dropped by over 34% over the last 20 years. This is due to more research, better treatments, and most of all, earlier detection. These can all be attributed to better awareness for the disease. But until we can get the death toll to zero, we still have a lot of work to do on the awareness front. National breast cancer awareness month is designated in October, but we should be advocating for more awareness all year long!
There is so much information out there about breast cancer, that it can seem a little overwhelming when looking into the details. Conflicting information seems to pop up everywhere, and it’s hard to discern what’s true and what’s not. As someone who is incredibly dedicated to women’s health and the awareness of breast cancer, I’ve done a lot of my own research and have come across an overall understanding of the basics surrounding useful and accurate breast cancer information.
Risk Factors and Prevention
Risk factors and prevention tips are probably the most common things we see when researching breast cancer, and this stems from everyone’s fear of the disease. Articles spouting advice like “don’t use antiperspirant,” “don’t wear bras with underwires,” and things like these can be found all over the internet, as well as counter articles citing research says that those are not risk factors. But there are universal risk factors that everyone can agree with, and the CDC lists many of these on their site:
- Family history – those with a family history of breast cancer are at a much higher risk
- Lifestyle – people with unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles are more at risk
- Artificial hormones – people who have taken hormones for an extended period of time, such as birth control, estrogen pills, and other forms of estrogen-related hormone therapy have an increased risk
Something I found really interesting in my research is the relation to pregnancy and breast cancer. The CDC’s list mentions having your first pregnancy after the age of thirty, or having no pregnancy at all can result in an increased risk for breast cancer, while having a pregnancy in your twenties can lower your risk. Along those same lines, an infographic from Bradley University states that breastfeeding can reduce your risk of breast cancer by 6%. Seems like biological moms might have a slight advantage in their risk factor levels.
Though, if you receive a breast cancer diagnosis before you become a parent, it can seriously affect your plans to someday have children. Different treatments can have a detrimental effect on your fertility. So planning and taking precautions before getting treatment, like preserving eggs, is vital if you want children in your future.
Paying attention to your health
Knowing our risk factors is an important step in prevention and awareness, but even more important is keeping track of our health, getting yearly check ups, and getting the necessary screenings. While risk factors are broad generalizations based on data and statistics, only regular visits to the doctor can help us catch breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable.
Everyday health assessment is a must. Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise is not only good for lowering our risk factors, it’s the best way to gauge what feels normal and healthy to us. If we are feeling lethargic and otherwise unhealthy for longer than just a few days, it may be a sign to go see a doctor. Also, doing monthly self-exams can help us get to know what our breasts normally feel like and give you a way to check ourselves for lumps and abnormalities in between yearly doctor check ups.
As essential as monthly self-exams are, they are no substitute to regular yearly doctor exams. A doctor is going to know much better than we will if there is something that needs further exploration. If you are 50 years or older, it’s recommended you receive regular breast cancer screenings. If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, you might even consider starting screenings even sooner. Different methods that doctors might use to check breasts for cancer are ultrasounds, mammograms, and 3D Tomosynthesis – which detects cancer 40% more effectively, according to the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash.
Raising awareness about breast cancer is vital to increasing the survival rate of those affected by this horrible disease. We’ve got to do more than just wear pink and hope people get the message – we need to be talking to our friends and family about risk factors and prevention tactics. Help raise money for organizations that dedicate themselves to breast cancer research and/or make it possible for everyone to have access to screenings. Let’s do our best to get survival rates to 100%!
Mila Sanchez is a writer and women’s health advocate living in beautiful Boise, ID. Her ambitions include traveling the world, studying languages, and taking pictures of her dog, Baymax.