October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Question: Why would a person in her twenties be supporting a cause like breast cancer awareness?
Answer: Well, I don’t know if it’s obvious to you, but I have breasts.
Breast Cancer Facts:
Breast cancer affects as many as 99 in 100,000 women in the US alone, and numbers vary greatly. According to the Philippine Society of Medical Oncologists in a report from 2013, the breast cancer is so common that one of every 13 Filipino women are expected to develop it in her lifetime.
Breast cancer is also the most common cancer in the Philippines, with at least 16% of all the 50,000 cases of those diagnosed with cancer, according to a 2010 estimate. It is also the leading cause of cancer among women, and accounts for 28% of their total cases.
One in four women diagnosed with breast cancer die within the first five years, and 40% and above die within a decade.
Although it is highly treatable and have as high as 80% survival rates in developed countries like the US, Canada, Sweden, and Japan, these numbers decrease greatly depending on the income of the country. I live in a third world country, so survival rates here are pretty low.
People at Risk
The chances of getting breast cancer increases as age increases, so the older you get, the more likely it is for you to develop the disease.
However, there are also other factors other than age, for instance, family history. The risk is higher for women who have relatives who also had the disease, and if said relative is a close one, like a mother, sister, or daughter, then the risk doubles.
Some women develop benign breast conditions like atypical hyperplasia in their younger years, and unfortunately this also means that there is an increased risk for breast cancer.
Of course, lifestyle also plays a part: being overweight is also said to increase the risk of breast cancer, as does alcohol consumption, although exercise is said to seemingly lower the risk of the disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
The American Cancer Society noted that in the early stages, breast cancer does not show symptoms, especially if the tumor is still small and easily treated, which is why it is necessary to follow recommended screening guidelines.
Once the tumor is large enough to be felt, it can be seen as a painless lump, but there are times that even before the original breast tumor is large enough to be felt as a lump, the cancer already spread to underarm lymph nodes, which can cause lumps or swellings as well.
Other signs include breast pain or heaviness; persistent changes to the breast such as swelling, thickening, or redness of the breast’s skin; and nipple abnormalities like spontaneous (possibly bloody) discharge, erosion, or retraction.
That’s scary, but what can we do?
Well, the breast cancer awareness campaign is a start.
If you’re a woman in her thirties or forties, you should start getting your annual screening and testing. Breast self examinations (BSEs) are a start, but there is a lot that you could miss — or there is a lot that you can overthink, so get a clinical breast exam as part of your regular checkups.
If you’re at a higher risk of getting breast cancer, think of getting an MRI and a mammogram every year.
Remember that breast cancer is not one, but several different kinds of diseases, so each treatment is individualized, and your case is likely different from that of someone you know.