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It can be one of the scariest words in the world to hear. It conjures fear, anxiety, and a feeling of hopelessness. The word is “Cancer.” Thankfully, with research, increasing awareness, and the much needed support of families and communities, cancer is no longer an automatic death sentence. It may be an uphill battle against breast cancer, but it’s a fight many women around the world are refusing to lose.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month has been celebrated for more than 25 years now, every year during the month of October. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) diligently promotes breast cancer awareness, raises funds, and provides access to breast health services for those in need. The NBCAM is a combination of public service organizations, medical associations, and government agencies working together. Although great strides have been made on the forefront of breast cancer awareness and research, there still remains much to be accomplished. Until a cure is found, let us take steps to do what we can, show our support, and fight like so many of the brave women before us whose lives have been claimed by this devastating disease.
Cancer is the term used to classify diseases characterized by abnormal cells that invade the healthy cells of the body. Breast cancer obviously affects the cells of the breast. The cancer cells can then spread and enter other areas of the body, damaging other tissue and organs. The cancer cells are spread when the cells break away from the original tumor and enter the blood vessels or lymph vessels. From there the vessels branch out to the tissue and systems throughout the body, taking the stowaway cancer cells with them.
A mass of abnormal tissue is called a tumor. The two types of breast cancer tumors are benign and malignant. Benign tumors are not cancerous while malignant tumors are cancerous. Benign tumors are usually left alone or not removed. They can be removed if the tumor continues to grow or cause discomfort to the patient. Malignant tumors are a whole other story. To determine whether or not a tumor is cancerous, or the severity of the tumor, a doctor can perform a biopsy. A biopsy is what happens when they go inside the body and remove a sample of the tumor to be tested. Once the results of the biopsy come in, the doctor can determine the most appropriate course of treatment for that particular patient. If the cells of the malignant tumor spread to other parts of the body then the cancer has “metastized” and has become metastic cancer.
According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide. In fact, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. An estimated 220,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and more than 40,000 of them will die because of it. Sadly, cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death among women, next to heart disease.
Breast cancer in men is rare, but not impossible. Males account for less than 1% of all breast cancer cases. Only 1 in 1,000 men will ever be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lives. It’s estimated that 2,150 men are diagnosed per year in the U.S. with breast cancer and about 400 of them will pass away because of it. Breast cancer in males can show the same signs as breast cancer in females. Male breast cancer is usually detected as a hard lump beneath the nipple and/or areola. Because of the lack of awareness of male breast cancer, men who have breast cancer have a higher mortality rate than women. They do not know what to look for and are less likely to seek treatment or medical advice if an abnormality is found. This is yet another instance where early detection is key. Early detection means more treatment options and a lower mortality rate because of it.
While the medical community cannot say exactly what causes a case of breast cancer, there are certain factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing it. But no one can pinpoint why one woman develops breast cancer while another one doesn’t. The only medical certainty is that breast cancer is always caused by damage to the cell’s DNA. When a cell’s DNA is damaged, cancer grows. But how or why it becomes damaged is still a mystery.
Some genetic and environmental factors that have been associated with breast cancer are:
- Age – Breast Cancer is found in women over 55 in nearly 2/3rds of cases
- Race – Breast cancer seen more often in Caucasian women
- Family History
- Early menstruation (before age 12)
- Late menopause (after age 55)
- Giving birth at an older age / Never giving birth at all
- Genetic Mutations in Certain Genes (ex: BRCA1 & BRCA2)
- Dense Breast Tissue
- Lack of Exercise or Physical Activity
- Poor Diet
- Frequent Alcohol Consumption
- Overweight or Obesity
- Radiation Exposure (Primarily to the Chest)
- Taking Combined Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
How can you help fight the battle against breast cancer? Every contribution is important no matter how big or small. From purchasing and wearing bracelets, pink ribbons, and breast cancer merchandise to participating in fundraisers and breast cancer walks, there’s a way everyone can do their part. Contact your local community or visit the American Cancer Society to see when a fundraising or community event near you might be scheduled. In our area we will be participating in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides walk in Akron, Ohio starting at the University of Akron’s field house (new stadium) on Sunday, October 20, 2013 and yet another chance to participate in the walk on Sunday, October 27, 2013 starting from the Canton McKinley High School in Canton. Both walks are scheduled to begin at 10 AM. Visit http://makingstrides.acsevents.org for more details.
Beyond showing support for breast cancer awareness month, you can do something even greater to help in the fight against breast cancer. Protect yourself. Spread the word, tell others what you know, and practice what you preach. Conduct regular self-exams, at least once a month, and attend timely breast exams and mammograms. Because of the improved methods for treatment, increased awareness, and early detection there has been a considerable decline in deaths from breast cancer since the 1990s. When a problem is detected early there are more treatment options available and therefore the risk of dying from breast cancer is reduced.
Remember, if any male or female notices anything unusual about their breasts, a medical professional should be contacted right away. Call Stark Women’s Center today to schedule your next mammogram or learn more about breast cancer and what you can do to protect yourself.