When we think of October, the first few things that pop into our heads may be fall, Oktoberfest, Halloween or pumpkin-flavored everything. Candy, alcohol and pumpkin spice lattes are great, but October holds more importance than that.
You may or may not have noticed how the color pink comes up more often in October than other months, except maybe February, and there’s a reason for that. For the entire month, pink is spread all across the world to help bring awareness to a disease that takes tens of thousands of lives every year; breast cancer.
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual campaign to spread awareness of the disease, its risks, how to help prevent it and treatment options available for those diagnosed with breast cancer. Events such as the five kilometer run and Race for the Cure allow survivors, sufferers and supporters to come together and raise awareness for breast cancer.
Some may wonder why months of awareness are necessary and important to our everyday lives. Well, if we’re honest with ourselves, many of these diseases and problems are pushed to the background of the lives of those they don’t affect. Not everyone has suffered from diabetes, child obesity or breast cancer. If it doesn’t affect our own personal lives, why worry about it?
Many of us don’t understand how certain diseases affect a large number of the population all over the world. While we may not be affected ourselves, it doesn’t mean our loved ones won’t be. According to breastcancer.org, in the United States alone, “About one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime,” and “about 40,610 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2017 from breast cancer.”
The World Health Organization goes beyond the U.S. to explain that “breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of women each year and affecting countries at all levels of modernization.”
While both men and women can be diagnosed with breast cancer, the most affected are women. There are however, risk factors which may increase your likelihood of developing breast cancer. Some risks are beyond our control, such as age, family history of breast cancer and genetics. Others, like heavy alcohol consumption, an unhealthy diet, smoking, a lack of exercise and being overweight can be easily prevented through the adoption of a healthier lifestyle. However, while some risk factors are controllable, they may not completely erase the risk of breast cancer.
The threat breast cancer brings to our lives and those of our loved ones is very real and very dangerous. I, like many others, have people close to me who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s hard to cope with anything involving the word “cancer.” That’s why months of awareness are necessary–we need to learn what breast cancer is, how to treat it, and how to potentially prevent it.
Breast cancer, as defined by the National Breast Cancer Foundation can be described as “a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast.” This may not seem too dangerous by definition, but it’s the growth of these malignant cells that make breast cancer potentially deadly. The NBCF goes on to further explain the three ways we know cancer grows: “Damaged cells replicate, creating more damaged cells and tumor growth; our body’s hormones and chemicals can accelerate the growth of some tumors; lymph and blood vessels can carry the cancer to others areas of the body and lymph node examination can help pinpoint the progression of the disease.”
As with any cancer, breast cancer has stages. The stages of cancer can be confusing, but breastcancer.org explains how the stages of breast cancer are “based on four characteristics: the size of the cancer, whether the cancer is invasive (grows into the normal, healthy tissues) or non-invasive (doesn’t invade normal tissues within or beyond the breast), whether the cancer is in the lymph nodes and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.”
According to the American Cancer Society website, the stage of the cancer determines the rate of survival after five years of being diagnosed with breast cancer. For men and women with stage zero or stage one breast cancer, their five-year survival rate is 100 percent. After stage three, the percentage decreases. Women with stage four breast cancer have a 22 percent survival rate while men have 20 percent survival rate.
It may be surprising to some to learn that breast cancer affects men as well as women. Men not being susceptible to breast cancer is one of the many myths about breast cancer the NBCF website wants to bust. Their website states that “each year it is estimated that approximately 2,190 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 410 will die” and that “men carry a higher mortality than women do, primarily because awareness among men is less and they are less likely to assume a lump is breast cancer, which can cause a delay in seeking treatment.”
Awareness of breast cancer is a valuable, and possibly life-saving, asset to every person of every gender around the world. There are ways to help others and yourself by using October to spread awareness of breast cancer, paying attention to changes to your body and encouraging family and friends to go for yearly mammograms and performing monthly self breast examinations. If you or someone you know has a story to tell and wants to spread awareness, beyondtheshock.com brings people affected by breast cancer together to ask questions and get connected to those going through similar situations.