Something as subtle as the pink ribbons adorned on signs, shirts, and more during the month of October represent one of the most well known medical movements for education, prevention, and support: Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The most commonly diagnosed cancer in American women, breast cancer is a topic with a personal connection to the average American. Despite its prevalence, efforts in recent years have mitigated the severity of the illness, with the overall death rate from breast cancer decreasing 1% per year from 2013 to 2018. While statistics like this are a beacon of hope for the future, education on breast cancer for the general public is a valuable aspect of prevention that can contribute to continuing to lower the death rate in the coming years.
“Breast cancer” is really an umbrella term, as there are various types of breast cancers depending on location, features, and mechanisms of treatment. While the types of breast cancer may vary in certain ways, it is understood that all breast cancers originate with damaged DNA in cells. This damaged DNA leads to rapid replication of damaged cells -- that are considered cancerous -- and lead to the formation of tumors. A variety of risk factors can contribute to an increased risk of diagnosis of breast cancer, including both environmental and genetic factors. Environmental factors include sedentary lifestyle, alcohol consumption, radiation to the chest, and a diet high in saturated fats. Genetic factors include age, gender, family history, having dense breast tissue, and having the mutation for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. However, having any of these risk factors is not a guarantee of a diagnosis; 60-70% of people with breast cancer have no known connection to these risk factors and many people with risk factors will never develop breast cancer.
With the unpredictable nature of breast cancer (and really all forms of cancer), it is important to be diligent about your health. While there is no known way to prevent breast cancer from occurring, there are certainly many ways to detect it, as studies show that when breast cancer is detected early in the localized stage, there is a 99% 5 year relative survival rate. Detection comes in a variety of forms, with some being self-administered, making it even easier to frequently check! A breast self-exam is recommended to be performed once a month and involves palpating the breasts to look for any abnormal lumps or hard knots. If one were to identify any new or growing lumps or knots, they should contact their doctor. Additionally, a person should be cognizant of any abnormal symptoms that could be indicative of breast cancer, such as changes in appearance or feel of breasts and nipples and discharge from nipples. While self examination is valuable, it is also necessary to go for clinical breast exams and mammograms to have a more thorough examination of the breast tissue completed by a professional. Clinical breast exams are typically conducted during annual visits to one’s physician and allow the physician to determine if there are any abnormalities that the patient has not identified. Mammograms are recommended to be done every 1-2 years for women 40 years and older. This exam involves an x-ray of the breast tissue that will allow for in-depth visualization of any potential cancerous growth.
As the LIG Global team consists of some OB/GYNs, they are experts in the field and have a wide range of knowledge on the importance of early breast cancer detection and the various methods. On previous LIG Global trips, midwives were taught about breast exams and were able to implement that into their patient exams in order to hopefully improve the outcomes for patients. Knowing the essentially life-saving capacity that early detection of breast cancer can have for a patient, it is crucial that we spread awareness and education in order to have the most promising results.