Awareness saves lives

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is winding down. What have you done to increase your understanding of this potentially deadly disease?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the second most common cancer in American women; only skin cancer is more common. The CDC recommends that all women between 50 and 74 years old have a mammogram every two years, while women 40-49 should talk to their doctors about when to begin that type of screening.

One reason that breast cancer is so dangerous is that it can be stealthy. Some patients have no symptoms at all and are diagnosed only through precautionary medical testing. Symptoms can include changes to the size or shape of the breast, pain in any part of the breast, nipple discharge or a new lump in the breast or underarm. Anyone who has any of these symptoms should see their doctor right away.

Each year, the CDC says, more than 240,000 women in the United States develop breast cancer – and 40,000 die from the condition. Most of those cancers occur in women over 50, but about 10 percent of cases are found in younger women.

And while breast cancer is commonly considered to be a disease of women, men are not immune. About 1 percent of all cases occur in men. So, everyone should be alert to signs and symptoms of the illness.

There certainly are risk factors that increase an individual’s chances of developing breast cancer. Being a woman, being over 50 and having the specific genes that increase the risk for certain families all play a role. So do diet, exercise and habits such as smoking or drinking alcohol.

There is a great deal more to Breast Cancer Awareness Month than just pink ribbons. Many informational resources are available online from sources such as the CDC, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and others.

Awareness truly does save lives, so take some steps now to get informed about your own risk factors and what you can do to help ensure you remain healthy. Read up on the topic, talk with your doctor and perform monthly self-exams. The more you know about breast cancer and your chances of developing it, the more likely you will be able to prevent its development or ensure that it is detected early and treated properly.