October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which means it’s that time of year for women and men around the world to refresh themselves on the ins and outs of the disease. More importantly, people should all know what to do to reduce their chances as much as possible.
Last year, breast cancer became responsible for 12% of all cancers worldwide, making it the most common type of cancer on the planet. With that in mind, it is surely an issue that is worth discussing, as many of us are unaware of just who is at risk, how we can detect it, and what we can do to avoid developing the illness years into the future.
As mentioned previously, the impact of breast cancer has been far-reaching. Thirteen percent of women in the U.S. will develop the disease within their lifetimes, or roughly one out of eight.
Hundreds of thousands will contract it in a given year, with nearly 290,000 women expected to develop new cases in 2022.
And it doesn’t stop there — more than 50,000 additional diagnoses considered non-invasive will also occur. Men aren’t totally out of the woods either, with nearly 3,000 new cases popping up in male patients annually. Millions of Americans have suffered from or continue to suffer from breast cancer and ending the stigmas that often exist starts with understanding this reality.
Limiting exposure to breast cancer is first handled through one’s knowledge of risk factors. While some of them can’t be changed, it is important to understand risk factors. Entering middle age, possessing a certain genetic mutation, and having higher breast density than average are all attributes that increase breast cancer risk without there being much recourse. Many cancers share this unfortunate truth, where risk has already been decided for us. The way to handle this truth is to understand these factors are innate and unchangeable and to work toward making changes that are possible.
Thankfully, many risk factors come down to things that are within our control. First and foremost, physical activity is important.
This endeavor should come as no surprise for anything even vaguely health-related, but getting consistent exercise is probably the single most beneficial behavioral adjustment one can make to their routine. Obesity also exists independently as a risk factor, giving exercise double the impact so long as it’s sustained enough to burn some calories.
There are also a few decision-based risk factors that can be difficult to avoid for many. Menstruating women undergoing menopause are often on some sort of hormone replacement therapy at the advice of their doctors. Those hormone-altering processes can present some breast cancer risks, making it important to consider one’s options when approaching that stage. Similarly, some studies (with conflicting results) have linked birth control pills to slightly increased breast cancer rates. However, the same drugs have been proven to reduce incidences of ovarian cancer significantly.
Finally, screening is essential to any breast cancer prevention strategy. Monthly self-exams and yearly mammograms are vital for detecting a possible diagnosis early when successful treatment is more likely. Check out the National Breast Cancer Foundation for more information on prevention and Breast Cancer Awareness month activities.