Humans and Health

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Five Things You Need to Know

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month spans from the 1st to the 31st October 2019 and is the most important calendar event in highlighting the disease and promoting the life-saving research which helps thousands of people in the UK each year. Here are five things you need to know about this crucial campaign:

One: 1 in 8 Women Will be Affected in Their Lifetime

Although it is often spoken about, many don’t know that breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women around the world. The majority of people have a friend or family member affected and, as it comes into contact with so many, spreading awareness of the disease and how it can be prevented is vital.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer occurs when breast cells divide in an uncontrolled manner. Although the name may be misleading, it is not a single disease; there are at least 10 subtypes of breast cancer that grow at different rates and respond differently to hormones. This is why, although the survival rates in the UK are high compared with other countries, the experiences differ from patient to patient. For more information, see Cancer Research UK’s description of the different stages of breast cancer.

Two: Men Can Have Breast Cancer

With charity campaigns and appeals solely focussed around women and their experience of breast cancer, you may not know that men can be affected by the disease too. Around 350 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, often with no knowledge that it was even possible to contract it. The lack of awareness of how many people this condition actually affects is another key reason that everyone needs to complete regular BSE’s (see Three).

“around 350 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, often with no knowledge that it was even possible to contract it”

Three: Early Detection Can Save Lives

As with all cancer types, survival rates for breast cancer are much bigger in the cases where the rogue cells are detected in the early stages. Over 90% of people diagnosed with breast cancer in its earliest stage survive for longer than 5 years, whereas that percentage drops to 15% of people diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer (Secondary spread detected in other parts of the body).

How is it detected?

Mammograms (breast x-rays) and breast examinations are the most common methods for detecting breast cancer and are more successful in women over the age of 50. In the UK, mammograms are offered to women aged 50-70 every three years and to ‘high risk’ women between 40 and 49 annually (normally those with a family history of breast cancer).

Below the age of 35, breast tissue is often too dense for accurate screening using a mammogram, but an ultrasound scan can usually be offered instead.

How do I Check for Signs of Breast Cancer?

Although more common in women over the age of 50, breast cancer can affect all women and men above the age of 18 and it is recommended that adults complete a Breast Self-Examination (BSE) monthly.

“it is recommended that adults complete a Breast Self-Examination (BSE) monthly”

How to complete a BSE:

A BSE can perfectly fit into your morning routine as it can easily become a part of your shower:

Part A – While in the Shower:

  1. While washing yourself with soapy water, feel for any change in your breast tissue e.g. thickening or a hard lump. Put your right hand behind your head and use the pads of the three middle fingers of your left hand to examine your right breast
  2. Press using light, medium and firm pressure in a circular motion, then follow with an up-and-down pattern
  3. Feel for any changes in your breast, above and below your collarbone and in your armpit area
  4. Repeat these steps for your left breast

Part B – In Front of a Mirror:

  1. Look for changes in the shape, size or appearance of your breasts e.g. dimpling, rash or puckering of the skin or nipple, nipple discharge or any change from normal. Inspect your breasts in four ways:
  • Holding arms at side
  • Holding arms overhead
  • Pressing hands on hips to tighten chest muscles
  • Bending forward with hands on hips

 

Almost 30% of breast cancer cases in the UK are estimated to be preventable through lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and limiting alcohol to a moderate intake.

Four: Secondary Spread is the Main Cause of All Breast Cancer Related Deaths

In the UK alone, 1000 people a month lose their lives to breast cancer. If that isn’t enough to persuade you to do your BSE’s, you should know that secondary spread, where the cancer reaches Stage III, occurs in 1 in 5 cases and is the main cause of all breast-cancer-related deaths. All too often, breast cancer cells are carried in the blood and lymphatic system to other areas of the body, especially the bones, liver and lungs.

Completing regular BSE’s and going to your GP with any concerns can help to lower the risk of spread and greatly increase your survival rate if rogue breast cells are detected.

Five:  You Can Make a Difference

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is all about spreading knowledge of the disease and helping to raise money to discover and develop new treatments and cures. Most people know someone affected by breast cancer, and having lost someone I was incredibly close to this year to the disease, I am personally dedicated to promoting this cause and through this, helping all the families touched by it.

“Breast Cancer Awareness Month is all about spreading knowledge of the disease and helping to raise money to discover and develop new treatments and cures”

How Can I Get Involved?

There are plenty of ways you can raise money throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month or during the rest of the year. Whether it’s completing a sponsored run, cycle, swim, bungee jump or simply making a donation, any of the following charities would be grateful for your contribution:

Breast Cancer UK

Against Breast Cancer

The Pink Ribbon Foundation

Breast Cancer Now

Coppa Feel

Breast Cancer Support

Prevent Breast Cancer UK

Macmillan Cancer Support

Cancer Research UK

Holly Jenson

Data Sources

https://breastcancersupport.org.uk

https://www.wearitpink.org

https://www.againstbreastcancer.org.uk

Featured image courtesy of Steve Snodgrass via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image use license here.

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