Saturday, 2 October 2021

Why is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so important?


Hopefully, most of you are already aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month but for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, this annual campaign has been running for over 35 years now and aims to educate women about how to proactively safeguard their wellbeing.

The greatest tragedy of breast cancer is how many avoidable deaths still occur each year. When detected early, it really can be very survivable these days. But too many women are either lacking the knowledge required to perform basic self-checks, find the whole topic too embarrassing to talk openly about or simply bury their heads in the sand and assume they will not be one of those affected.

Through awareness, you can help yourself and your loved ones learn how to look for early warning signs whilst also maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which can not only help prevent cancer but also other major diseases.

The most common cancer in women


It is estimated that 1 out of every 8 women in the United States. will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime... 1 in 8... just let that sink in for a second.

That makes breast cancer the second leading cause of death among women. If we continue looking at the United States, there are almost 1,500 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed every day. As a result, more than 40,000 women die of this disease every year.

Image courtesy of MaxNorman

The majority of patients are diagnosed when they are over the age of 55 and as women grow older, their chances go up significantly by the time they reach 80 years old. However, that doesn’t stop over 14,000 women under the age of 45 from being diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States.

Women who smoke, have a BMI over 30 or a family history should definitely talk to their doctor about getting screened on a more frequent basis as these are significant risk factors.

But it is critical to realise that breast cancer does not distinguish between rich or poor, it does not care what religion you observe and it does not matter if you have no family history of cancer; it can strike at any of us. A case in point is the recent passing of Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding who we lost at the tragically young age of just 39. For all her fame and fortune, detection came too late for her and that should be a lesson to all of us to not be complacent and take our health for granted.

What is breast cancer awareness month and why it's important


Now, you might be asking yourself “why is awareness so important when we have all heard of breast cancer already?”.

When you are aware of something, you can prepare for it to some degree and decrease your risks. First and foremost, this means being aware of the early signs of breast cancer and promoting simple self-checks that any woman can do on herself.

If detected early enough around 85% of cancers can be cured. If not detected until the later stages, this survivability rate drops to around 15% which illustrates just how critical early detection really is.

This year over 180,000 women will be alive five years after diagnosis because of early detection efforts and successful treatments. That is around double what it would have been when Breast Cancer Awareness month began in 1985 and demonstrates the impact that the campaign can have when women engage with it.

Image courtesy of MaxNorman

However, promoting self-checking is just part of the message. Too many women are not familiar with what a mammogram is, when they should have one, and how the tests work. Although awareness month has been celebrated for decades, there are still many women who don't know these things. In fact, most statistics show that only 1 out of 3 women in the United States actually take their annual mammograms as recommended by doctors.

The awareness campaign also promotes simple lifestyle choices that can help with prevention and reduce risk. For instance, women are encouraged to consider some of the following
  • Avoid cleaning products that contain certain dioxins
  • Steer clear from alcohol and tobacco use
  • Be mindful of the use of cosmetic products with hormones
  • Exercise regularly.


How to spread awareness


In the UK, Breast Cancer Now’s Wear It Pink Day is one of the biggest fundraising events having raised over £33 million since launching in 2002. Taking place each year during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, thousands of amazing people wear pink in their communities, schools or workplaces in support of Breast Cancer Now to raise awareness, as well as taking part in fundraising events such as bake sales and sponsored activities

If you don’t want to get involved in any activities, wearing a pink ribbon or donating directly to cancer research are also valuable contributions

But education really is the most valuable contribution you can make. Knowing the signs and symptoms of breast cancer can lead to diagnosing the cancer sooner. This can be crucial in providing more effective treatment and, ultimately, saving lives. Sadly a 2016 survey found that 33% of women aren’t regularly checking their breasts and a staggering 20% said it’s because they don’t know how to check their breasts.

This sort of lack of education is what awareness month means to tackle. Remind the women in your life that this sort of awareness is key because even if they don't feel like they have any risks, there are links to those who have no family history but still develop breast cancer.

Image courtesy of MaxNorman

Of course, there are several annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month events held within 3DXChat that you can attend to show your support for the cause. These events should serve as a stimulus for attendees to want to learn more about Breast Cancer Awareness and to start open conversations about what we can all do to stay healthy. 

Disappointingly, some of these events are completely lacking in sincerity when it comes to anything other than trying to get guests through the door by jumping on a good cause bandwagon. But there are events where the organisers do genuinely want to support the cause. While their hearts may be in the right place, their efforts are often misguided. Releasing posters with taglines about raising awareness and promoting prevention is all well and good but there needs to be some substance behind them, rather than just a load of spiel about the people behind the event. Challenge these organisers to step up and provide content that supports their taglines and then we may start to see some progress instead of empty words.

Some simple self-checks


Encourage anyone who is not doing so already to learn simple self-checks to help catch lumps in your breast that cannot be seen from the outside. It is super easy to do by following these basic steps:

  1. First check the different areas of your breasts by covering it with one hand and moving your other hand underneath. Make sure that there are no irregularities or bumps at all. It is good to check them regularly even if you don't feel you have any other symptoms.
  2. If all seems well, go ahead and once again cover each breast with one hand as before. Make a figure 8 motion across both breasts re-checking for any skin abnormalities. If you find any abnormalities, contact a doctor immediately instead of waiting.
  3. After this process make sure to run your hands all over your body checking every inch for anything unusual such as lumps or skin irregularities. This process will help you stay informed about what is going on in your body so that you can reverse any progressions early before they start getting worse. Do this at least once a month.


Signs of breast cancers


Checking for lumps is a quick and easy way to examine yourself, but it is by no means the only sign to look out for. Breast Cancer Awareness Month reminds us all how important it is to know what our bodies look like so we can catch these problems early when they are still treatable. When checking yourself, be aware of any of the following:
  • Unusual lumps or thickening of the breast tissue.
  • Changes in nipple appearance or hardness such as a discharge from the nipple. Other signs include dimpling, puckering, or turning inward.
  • Changes in breast skin colour such as bruises or dark patches which could be from developing blood clots. A reddish stretch mark like rash might also indicate that a tumor is present.
If you come across any of these, please consult with your doctor. If you find something that is of genuine concern, the earlier it is detected, the more treatable it will be.

In closing


Every October thousands of people come together in an effort to promote awareness of this disease and how you can prevent it from affecting your life. If you know someone who has had breast cancer or is currently battling it, take a moment and think back on what they could have done differently so that you can better protect yourself. Every year it seems we are coming up with better ways to fight cancer but, having not found a cure for it yet, awareness is still the best way to protect yourself and those you love from it.

And, if you are a woman over the age of 30, I urge you to please take 5 minutes a month to examine your breasts. If that seems like too much time, just consider that it may just save your life. I think that makes it worth it!

Lastly, don't forget that breast cancer is not confined to just women. Roughly 1% of breasts cancers diagnosed in the UK are in men. That's around 350 men a year. Although several of the symptoms are the same between both sexes and men with close female relatives who have had breast cancer are more likely to be affected by it, the root cause is not necessarily the same. Regardless, it just reinforces the point that breast cancer really does not discriminate between its victims and we must all remain vigilant.

Image courtesy of MaxNorman


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