You’ve seen the pink ribbons everywhere and you probably already know that that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The iconic pink ribbons have done their job, conversations about breast cancer have finally become not only socially acceptable, but they are actually encouraged. That’s extremely good news because breast cancer is a BIG DEAL for women.
According to the American Cancer Association, in 2013, an estimated 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed among US women, and sadly approximately 39,620 American women were expected to die from breast cancer during that year. Only lung cancer accounts for more cancer deaths in women. The statistic that is the most overwhelming to me is ‘1 in 8’. Yes, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her lifetime. As a Mom with 2 daughters, as a sister, as an aunt with beautiful nieces, as a woman with so many loving friends, this 1 in 8 statistic is scary.
I have a very high risk of breast cancer; both my mom and my sister were breast cancer survivors. With such a strong family history, getting an annual breast exam is not an option for me, it is a necessity.
Everyone I know has been touched by breast cancer, my husband’s mother died of breast cancer when he was a young man. Understandably, he is always very concerned about my annual exam. My husband also happens to work as an engineer fixing medical diagnostic equipment like MRI machines, so he gave me some incredibly valuable advice. He told me to make sure and request a ‘digital’ mammogram. The newer digital mammography machines are much more accurate. Because I happen to have very large breasts, mammograms are not particularly useful, so after several false positive results from mammograms, now I have talked with my doctor and I get an annual MRI of my breast. If you have very large breasts with very dense breast tissue and a significant risk of breast cancer, you might want to consider an MRI instead of a mammogram. It is much more accurate and best of all it prevents your exposure to unnecessary radiation.No one is safe, but there are some risk factors that increase your chance of developing breast cancer. Many of the known breast cancer risk factors are; age, family history, early menarche, and late menopause, postmenopausal obesity, use of combined estrogen and progestin menopausal hormones, cigarette smoking, and alcohol consumption. Some of these factors we can control, but some of them (like family history or our age) we cannot control.
Please use all those pink ribbons to remind yourself to schedule your Mammogram or MRI, and sign-up for a reminder to do your monthly breast self-exams. Working on improving your overall health with diet and exercise is also important. PLEASE stop smoking, it is associated with an increased risk of many cancers, as well as heart disease. We can’t control all of the risk factors, but with early detection, the chance of surviving breast cancer is extremely good.
Remember - all those pink ribbons are there to remind us to do our best at prevention and early detection, and just maybe in the future that 1 in 8 statistic will be history.