October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and as such, I would like to take the time to talk about this issue. This month, you are likely to see lots of pink ribbons, cookies, and even NFL uniforms, all intended to help raise awareness for breast cancer. For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer. About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just over 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Breast cancer can also affect men, currently at the rate of 1 out of every 1000 in the United States.

Most likely, you know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. With so many people affected by this disease, raising awareness surrounding breast cancer becomes very important:

Let’s Talk Breast Cancer

Breast cancer develops in the breast tissue,

primarily in the milk ducts or glands. The cancer is still called and treated as breast cancer even if it is first discovered after the cells have travelled to other areas of the body. In those cases, the cancer is referred to as metastatic or advanced breast cancer.

It is incredibly important to raise awareness around breast cancer because the disease is much easier and safer to stop when it is caught in early stages.

breast cancer

Therefore, women need to be made aware of the need for routine testing in the hopes of identifying breast cancer before it becomes deadly.

The American Cancer Society Recommends the following in order to properly screen for breast cancer:

  • Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health
  • Clinical breast exam (CBE) about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over
  • Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast change promptly to their health care provider. Breast self-exam (BSE) is good practice  for women starting in their 20s.
  • Some women – because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors – should be screened with MRI in addition to mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is small: less than 2% of all the women in the US.) Talk with your doctor about your history and whether you should have additional tests at an earlier age.

Click here for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Detection Guidelines

Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer

A woman’s risk of breast cancer approximately doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. About 15% of women who get breast cancer have a family member diagnosed with it. There is a clear, but not fully understood, genetic component to breast cancer. For this reason, I highly recommend that women get genetically tested to assess their risk of breast cancer and develop a screening plan.

Click here to read about preventative screening from the Susan G. Koemen Foundation 

One form of testing that can help identify genetic risk is predictive gene testing. It’s used to look for gene mutations that might put a person at risk of getting a disease. It’s usually done in families with a history that suggests there’s a disease that may be inherited. An example is testing for changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (known breast cancer genes) in a woman whose mother and sister had breast cancer.

Click here to read more about genetic screening for breast cancer

breast cancer 02 While these statistics and facts about breast cancer may seem overwhelming, it is important to keep a positive outlook. While it is true that many women suffer from breast cancer, if you take your screening and preventative measures seriously, you have an extremely high chance of catching breast cancer before it ever develops the most harmful symptoms. But remember, keeping yourself healthy through good lifestyle choices is the best defense against all forms of disease.  If you’re looking for some ways to get back into a healthy lifestyle read good food guidelines read my post on Nutrition and Staying Healthy.

Let’s take this month of October to hold those with breast cancer in our thoughts, and at the same time, remember to keep ourselves protected through proper preventative measures. If you or a loved one has experience dealing with breast cancer, please leave a comment so we can get the conversation started.


Dr. Johnson