by Erica E Winkler
Did you know that every 13 minutes, a woman dies from breast cancer in the United States? Every 13 minutes means, nearly 5 women every hour or in an eight hour work day, nearly 37 women. Imagine, if those 37 women were all women that you knew. Imagine if one of those women was you.
These women are mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, colleagues, with a life, a smile and a name. This is why, the fight to end breast cancer is not over until it’s completely gone. It’s still claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and men every single year. What are we going to do?
According to the Susan G. Komen organization, “Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast divide and grow without their normal control1.” This excess of cells creates a tumor in the breast tissue. While the cause of breast cancer has yet to be identified, there are some known factors that increase a person’s risk of breast cancer. For example, being a woman is an invariable risk factor in and of itself. Additional invariable risk factors include: aging, race or an inherited gene mutation. These are risks that cannot be changed or avoided. Variable risks include exercise, alcohol consumption, eating fruits and vegetables and more. These are risks that can be controlled and monitored.
In 2018, there were 2 million new breast cancer cases reported in the United States alone and 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her lifetime2. These stark statistics indicate just how imperative preventive measures are in order to ensure that someday, no one will suffer from breast cancer.
Screening and early detection are two important preventive measures that are well advised to all women. Screening procedures include clinical breast exams or mammograms. Clinical breast exams are normally conducted on routine doctor’s visits by a certified medical practitioner. The exams are typically recommended for normal risk women starting at the age of 19. Women with a higher risk or over 40 should have mammograms every 1-2 years. The importance of these preventive procedures is that if breast cancer is detected, then they can catch it in the early stages before it advances to other parts of the body.
In cases where there is an abnormal clinical exam or mammogram, the typical recommended follow up can include a diagnostic mammogram (which takes a closer look at the breast tissue compared to the traditional screening mammogram), breast ultrasound or breast MRI. If the findings from the tests reveal that breast cancer is probable, then a needle biopsy is conducted to remove and test a small amount of breast tissue to confirm or reject the initial findings. If the findings confirm the presence of breast cancer in the breast tissue, then advisable treatment is recommended and scheduled by the practitioner.
Contrary to common belief, breast cancer is not only a disease that affects women. In 2019 alone, there’s an estimated 2,670 new cases of men diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States and out of that number, approximately 500 deaths3.
To date, there is still no cure for breast cancer. However, early detection, immediate treatment and knowing your family health history are key indicators to increase the average survival rate amongst patients diagnosed with breast cancer. Treatment of breast cancer can vary based on the stage of the cancer, however it typically involves surgery to remove the cancerous tumor from the breast. Depending on the medical recommendation, the surgery is either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. The lumpectomy is a surgery that removes only the tumor and a minimal part of the surrounding breast tissue. While a mastectomy removes not only the tumor but the entire breast. Typically, both surgeries are followed up with radiation as a two-fold measure to 1) ensure that the cancer is completely gone and 2) to take preventive measures to prevent the cancer from developing again. Additional treatments include: chemotherapy, hormone therapy and HER2- targeted therapy. Recommended treatment can vary from patient to patient and is typically recommended by the medical practitioner based on several medical and personal factors.
Despite all of the terrible loss that breast cancer has caused, that loss is being leveraged for the good through many different organizations including Susan G. Komen. Founded on a promise to end breast cancer forever, Susan G. Komen is the world’s largest funder for the fight against breast cancer from a nonprofit source4. In 1980, Nancy G. Brinker lost her sister, Susan G. Komen, to breast cancer. Her promise to her sister to end breast cancer forever has already made a dynamic impact in saving lives in the United States and all around the world. As of 2016, the breast cancer death rate has been reduced by 40%5 largely in part to the work of Susan G. Komen. With a new goal, to decrease the current number of breast cancer deaths by 50% in the United States by 20266, they continue to make major advancements and milestones in the industry. Through their research, community advocacy and their two major races, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the Susan G. Komen 3 Day, their work is fueling the breast cancer research, shaping laws and public policy, advocating for communities and ultimately, saving lives. They work directly to overcome the equity disparities that exist in communities through their resources and support through the Susan G. Komen local affiliates across the United States.
Ongoing research and studies seek to find not only a cure but also to make advancements in the screening process, preventive medicines, clinical trials and to further analyze the potential risk factors. Improvements to the overall screening process, include researching new imaging tests.The tests are being studied to offer an alternative to traditional screening methods, such as mammograms. As a simpler and more affordable alternative to traditional needle biopsies, liquid biopsies are being tested. According to the American Cancer Society, “Identifying and testing the circulating tumor cells (CTCs) that break away from the tumor and into the bloodstream, and circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in the blood is sometimes referred to as a liquid biopsy7.” Potential preventive medicines, including non-hormonal drugs and estrogen blocking drugs, are being tested to identify if either option could be prescribed to prevent breast cancer. Additionally, clinical trials greatly improve the overall treatment process as new treatments and therapies are tested and analyzed in a safely monitored environment. Research still continues to investigate if factors such as stress, smoking, BPA exposure and more, could cause breast cancer.
October is breast cancer awareness month and there are a plethora of ways that you can get involved and make a difference. But breast cancer awareness is not just a one month long initiative. There are so many ways that you can show your support this month and throughout the entire year. Here are a few ways to show your support for breast cancer awareness:
- Walk or Run it Out: Sign up for a race! Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure and the 3 Day, are two wonderful options to consider. Additionally, the American Cancer Society hosts Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Check out your local community calendar to find additional races, walks or fun runs.
- Volunteer: There are a plethora of volunteer opportunities with different organizations all over the United States to help support the cause.
- Become an Advocate: Organizations like Susan G. Komen are heavily involved in legislative and advocacy for breast cancer awareness and research. Find out more about it here.
- Donate: Find an organization that you love and make a one-time or recurring monthly donation to show your support today.
- Shop Pink: Online and in-store retailers you can find a wonderful breast cancer awareness merchandise. Some organizations, like Susan G. Komen, donate 100% of their proceeds back towards breast cancer research, advocacy and community programs.
1 “What is Breast Cancer,” Susan G. Komen. https://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/ WhatisBreastCancer.html (accessed October 7, 2019).
2 “Breast Cancer is Unacceptable,” Susan G. Komen. https://ww5.komen.org/unacceptable/? utm_source=Komen.org&utm_medium=GlobalHeaderCTA&utm_campaign=Unacceptable (accessed October 8, 2019).
3 “Facts and Statistics.” Susan G. Komen. https://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/FactsandStatistics.html (accessed October 7, 2019).
4 “About Us,” Susan G. Komen. https://ww5.komen.org/AboutUs/AboutUs.html (accessed October 7, 2019).
5 “Breast Cancer Statistics,” Susan G. Komen. https://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/Statistics.html (accessed on October 8, 2019).
6 “Our Bold Goal,” Susan G. Komen. https://ww5.komen.org/ourboldgoal/? utm_source=Komen.org&utm_medium=GlobalHeaderCTA&utm_campaign=MoreThanPink (accessed on October 8, 2019).
7 “What’s New in Breast Cancer Research,” American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ breast-cancer/about/whats-new-in-breast-cancer-research.html (accessed on October 7, 2019).