BY DANIELLE WEITLAUF, GUEST WRITER TO THE TIMES
ORLANDO – October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, bringing focus to the second most deadly cancer for American women. While the mortality rate among women has decreased over the last decade, according to the National Cancer Institute, about one in eight women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point.
Younger Americans, particularly women, are becoming more vulnerable. And Black women are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer than White women in the United States as their tumors are often more aggressive. After making significant progress in the fight against cancer over the past few decades, understanding breast cancer remains crucial to early detection and improved survival rates.
Breast cancer’s exact cause remains unclear, but several risk factors have been identified. Gender, age, family history, genetics and lifestyle are among this list. Breast cancer is far more common in women than men. Most cases occur in women over the age of 50 even though the rate of younger women being diagnosed is increasing. Mutations in specific genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, are associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer. And, poor diet, lack of physical activity, alcohol consumption, and obesity can raise the risk.
Even if a woman doesn’t have these risk factors, it’s important to monitor physical changes to know when to speak to a health professional. Recognizing these signs and symptoms of breast cancer is crucial for early detection:
Lump in the Breast: The most common symptom is a painless lump in the breast or underarm area.
Change in Breast Size or Shape: Any unexplained change in breast size or shape should be investigated.
Breast Pain: While breast pain is not always indicative of cancer, it should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
Nipple Changes: Changes in the nipple, such as redness, scaling, or nipple discharge, should not be ignored.
Skin Changes: Dimpling or puckering of the breast’s skin can be a sign of an underlying issue.
In addition to monitoring signs and symptoms, regular medical screenings by a health professional contribute to early detection. Women are now being told they should get mammograms every other year starting at age 40 – 10 years earlier than previous recommendations. However, the American Cancer Society and other medical associations are urging women to have mammograms yearly, not every other year. And most private insurance is required to provide coverage for an annual screening under the Affordable Care Act.
Making it easier for women to have a mammogram screening, especially when they suddenly notice a lump or other physical change, Orlando Health – Health Central Hospital offers “Walk-In Wednesdays” where patients do not need to make an appointment. They just need to visit the Breast Imaging Center on Wednesdays during normal business hours. Early detection can be key for anyone who receives a cancer diagnosis and “Walk-In Wednesdays” make it even more accessible for women to receive that screening.
Screening-detected cancers are usually smaller and found at an early stage, so treatment is very effective. Medical professionals emphasize it is key to treat breast cancers when they’re very small. And, through medical advancements, the good news is that most women survive breast cancer and while some risk factors, like age and genetics, are beyond our control, there are also steps individuals can take to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer:
Healthy Lifestyle: Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and regular physical activity can lower the risk of breast cancer.
Breastfeeding: Women who breastfeed their babies may have a reduced risk.
Limiting Alcohol: Reducing alcohol consumption can help lower the risk of breast cancer.
Regular Screening: Routine breast self-exams and mammograms for early detection are essential.
Genetic Counseling: For individuals with a family history of breast cancer, genetic counseling can provide information about risk and potential preventive measures.
Breast cancer is a significant health concern for women around the world, but with early detection and advancements in treatment, many women survive and thrive. Raising awareness, understanding risk factors, and adopting a healthy lifestyle are pivotal in the fight against breast cancer. Regular screenings and seeking medical attention for any unusual symptoms can make all the difference in early diagnosis and successful treatment. By continuing to study and educate ourselves about breast cancer, we can work toward a future where its impact is significantly reduced.