Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Every October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month takes center stage to remind us of the importance of preventative screenings, risk factor education, patient and survivor support, and fundraising for continued research. Where do we stand today in the fight? This week, the #TRN team looks at some of the latest stats and developments.
According to the American Cancer Society:
In 2023, it’s estimated that nearly 298,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer found in U.S. women after skin cancer.
It’s estimated that nearly 44,000 Americans will die from breast cancer in 2023 (43,170 women, 530 men).
Overall, breast cancer survival rates have significantly improved over the years, with a five-year survival rate of 91% and a ten-year survival rate of 84%.
In the News and on the Horizon
At the end of 2022, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine announced their partnership in launching a Global Data Hub to centralize breast cancer data collection and research. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation is the largest private funder of breast cancer research in the world.
Artificial Intelligence increased breast cancer detection by 20%, reducing physicians’ mammogram reading workload by 44%. As the use of AI develops in this field, doctors can significantly cut down on the time spent in mammogram analysis and move more rapidly into treatment plans for breast cancer patients, saving some critical time needed to get ahead of the spread.
AI algorithms have also begun outperforming the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium (BCSC), the traditional model for predicting breast cancer risk.
The medical community is further honing its approach to current treatment options. Researchers are examining and re-examining treatment and recovery from every angle, from the development of potent new drug combos to the seemingly simple—like honing in on the best time of day to take a medication.
Ongoing Issues in Breast Cancer Awareness
There’s more good news on the horizon as the medical community continues toward global collaboration and AI-supported solutions. It’s still critical, however, for women to remain vigilant and educated on the risk factors and health issues surrounding breast cancer, particularly as they age.
General Risk Factor Awareness
It’s essential to remember that having one or more risk factors doesn’t automatically mean you will get breast cancer; on the other hand, not having any risk factors doesn’t automatically mean you can’t get breast cancer.
And while there are certain risk factors that you can’t control—genetic predisposition, family history, menstrual history, and more—there are some risk factors that you can exercise some amount of control over. Controllable risk factors may include:
Level of physical activity—a relatively inactive or sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of breast cancer
Weight—as we age, maintaining a healthy weight becomes increasingly crucial in mitigating the risk of breast cancer or other health conditions
Reproductive history—pregnancy after age 30, never giving birth, and/or never breastfeeding is a risk factor.
Use of hormones—taking specific hormone replacement therapy regimens during menopause and certain oral birth control pills during the reproductive years- can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
Alcohol consumption—alcohol consumption can raise the risk of breast cancer as well as other types of cancer.
The Continued Importance of Early Detection
Risk factor awareness and taking charge of controllable risk factors are half the battle. The other critical part of the equation involves promoting regular breast self-checks, early detection, and breaking some stigma and unease surrounding mammograms.
Understanding the Symptoms
We most commonly associate cancer detection with a lump in the breast, but that’s not necessarily the first or only symptom that may appear. Symptoms that should be brought to a physician’s attention include:
a new or unexplained lump in the breast or armpit
unexplained change in the size or shape of the breast
any nipple discharge other than breast milk
skin thickening, swelling, or unexplained pain in any part of the breast
irritation, redness, dimpling, or skin flaking in the nipple or other parts of the breast
new, sudden, or unexplained inversion of the nipple
Fear-Free Mammograms and Regular Screenings
According to the American Cancer Society, women with an average breast cancer risk profile:
may choose to get an annual mammogram screening between the ages of 40 and 44
should get a yearly mammogram between the ages of 45 and 54
can choose to get a mammogram yearly or every other year at the age of 55 and up
A mammogram is the first line of defense in an early detection strategy. Most of the fear and anxiety surrounding mammograms and breast exams is due to the unknown, so it may be helpful to look at how mammograms work and what to expect during an exam. Because of the overall rise in treatability of breast cancer, especially when caught early, it’s essential to understand how beneficial mammograms can be in speeding the path to diagnosis and treatment if needed.
To further ease the stigma, the medical community promotes concepts like Mammograms and Mimosas and social media campaigns to normalize health screenings and preventative care among women.
Male Breast Cancer Awareness
Because of the enduring perception that breast cancer affects only women, many men may unknowingly experience symptoms and late diagnoses. According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, around one in 833 men will develop breast cancer within their lifetime. But while men are far less likely to develop breast cancer, the mortality rate among male breast cancer patients is 19% higher than in women, with no major improvements to their survival rates within the last 30 years.
Researching a Rarity
Due to its rareness, male breast cancer doesn’t receive the same amount of research, attention, or clinical trials as other types of cancer; current treatment plans also tend to mimic those used for women. But as more recent research suggests certain molecular and mutational differences between male and female breast cancer, more specialized research will likely be needed and pursued in the coming years.
For now, men who experience lumps or thickening within the breast tissue, discharge from the nipple, or redness or other changes to the nipple should go ahead and schedule a consult with a general physician who can provide a referral if needed.
More Resources and Support
National Cancer Institute Overview: Breast Cancer https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast
How to Perform a Self Breast Exam https://www.youtube.com/shorts/EpPNT6ZvWoM
What Happens During a Mammogram https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wq059wYYQ2M
Mammogram Basics and Preparation https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection/mammograms/mammogram-basics.html
Local Programs and Services Search https://www.cancer.org/support-programs-and-services.html
Male Breast Cancer Awareness https://www.bcrf.org/blog/male-breast-cancer-statistics-research?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&gclid=CjwKCAjwvrOpBhBdEiwAR58-3NYMtvzX2-WUgLR4HTWR5mfaUw-X6H22dNNJ4R30jH2RgL9glTNFIhoC3RoQAvD_BwE
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