Chances are, you know many women who have fought the good fight against breast cancer. As the 2020s get underway, nearly 13 percent of all females in the U.S. will deal with this insidious disease at one time or another. I hope to share some facts about breast cancer by sharing my own story.
In fact, the most common risk factors are advancing age and simply being female. The "being female" part might sound obvious, but it's worth noting that about one percent of all breast cancer victims are male. Each year, about 400 men die of the disease, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
The remaining 99 percent of sufferers are female, making breast cancer the number one form of cancer among U.S. women and the second-most common cause of death. But many breast cancer truths are not so apparent, especially those regarding age, prevention methods, other risk factors, and recognizable symptoms.
Basic Breast Cancer Truths
Knowledge is power. That principle has never been more true than it is in the fight against breast cancer. When we know how to distinguish between breast cancer myths and facts, we're better able to assist others and help ourselves. For example, understanding the unique connection between age and the disease is essential.
According to the American Cancer Society, with advancing age, our propensity of contracting breast cancer goes up. If you're over 50, you are in the age demographic that is most susceptible to death from the disease. In the U.S., the median age at the time of diagnosis is 62.
Early and frequent medical screenings can cut the death rate a lot. That's because, as with most kinds of cancer, early detection and prompt treatment offer the best chance of recovery. Women should give their physicians a detailed family history, which is a reliable way to understand your own risk level.
When it comes to helping others, things like support groups, fund-raisers, educational efforts, and volunteering can make a huge difference in our ability, as a society, to bring death rates from breast cancer down. Here are some of the most vital breast cancer facts that we all should commit to memory:
- Screenings are the Best Form of Prevention
- Family History Can Reveal Risk Levels
- Education Can Reduce the Death Rate
- Money-Raising Events Can Fund Research
- Support Groups Offer Help for All Sufferers
- Volunteers Make a Cure Possible
Whether you're keeping an eye on your own risk factors or taking care of an elderly relative, it's important to make regular appointments for screenings that include procedures like MRI's, ultrasounds, mammograms, clinical breast exams, and more. And, don't forget about self exams, which you can do as often as you wish. Just remember to get reliable advice from a doctor or nurse about how to properly do an exam on yourself.
Finally, when you do visit the doctor, know which questions to ask. The American Cancer Society (a great resource for all cancer-related subjects, by the way) has an informative list on their site that includes more than 50 questions to ask when you go in for a screening.
Educate yourself about risk factors and the role family medical history plays in breast cancer transmission from generation to generation. The American Cancer Society website offers a wealth of data about family history, including the key point that if one of your siblings or a parent had the disease, your chances of getting it are about 50 percent greater than otherwise.
I was 27 in 2009, and my diagnosis arrived out of the blue. After discovering a lump during a self-exam, I contacted a specialist. The lump was benign but my family history was enough to scare me into further action. Coincidentally, my maternal grandmother underwent a mastectomy at the exact same age I was, 27. After testing, the doctor told me I exhibited risk factors in the form of BRCA2+, a medical term that designates inherited genes for susceptibility to breast cancer.
I alerted my mom and sister, who immediately had tests. Mom had stage-1 breast cancer as well as Fallopian tube cancer. She had several surgeries and is now doing well. My sister and I constantly monitor our risk. In 2016, I had a preventative double mastectomy and prophylactic reconstruction. Though it was an immensely tough decision, my regular screenings had been showing more and more of a risk, and I didn't want to play a game of chance with my life. At the time, my children were 4, 5, and 8. I didn't want them to grow up without a mother, so I opted for the surgery.
Later, my doctors informed me that I had certainly made a smart decision because additional tissue testing revealed an even higher cancer risk than we had even suspected. So, quick thinking and an extremely difficult decision allowed me to dodge a bullet, no doubt about it. Now, five years later, I'm glad the worst is behind me. I'm alive, and so are my mom and sister.
We were lucky to catch the disease early and survive. That's why all three of us let people know about the importance of self-exams, frequent medical tests, and being educated about the role of genetics. If our story can cause others to take early action and avoid the effects of breast cancer, we'll feel as if we have done our part for raising awareness and saving lives.
Donate, Walk, Support, Volunteer, Educate, and Get Involved
There's much more to supporting the fight than finding out about your personal risk and wearing a pink sweatshirt. Getting breast cancer information to those who are not informed is an excellent place to begin. Often, just having a conversation with a friend and helping them separate breast cancer myths and facts can change someone's life for the better and spread the word.
Consider donating directly to organizations that work for a cure and do research on the disease. Make it a family, neighborhood, or office project by putting together a group walk or fundraiser. Some of the best non-profits include the American Cancer Society, Rays of Hope, and many others.
If there are already a lot of charity walks in your area and you want to try a different approach, sponsor a casino night, a karaoke contest, or talent show. Use the skills and personal preferences of your group to come up with a unique, fun way to raise money for this worthwhile cause.
There are also plenty of volunteer opportunities in every community. Contact local hospitals and churches to see where needs exist. A few of the possibilities include driving people to their screenings, taking food to people who are unable to prepare meals for themselves, or just talking with someone who needs a friend in a time of need.
The Good News
It seems odd to mention "good news" when discussing a widespread disease, but there's a bright side to everything. In this case, the positive aspect of the topic is that we can all do a lot. There's no reason to become complacent and accept the devastating results of a potentially fatal ailment like breast cancer.
Together, we can reduce the frightening numbers, like the annual percent of adults who are diagnosed and die from the disease. Every effort pays a dividend, so take the chance to do whatever you can to contribute to the "good fight." Inaction is the only real enemy we face.