We all know someone that has been affected by breast cancer. Whether it’s your mom, sister, or friend, it’s a disease that touches everyone in some way. On average, 72 Canadian women are diagnosed with breast cancer and at least 14 lose their lives to this disease every day. With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, our team felt that it was important to educate and increase awareness about breast cancer to hopefully get a few steps closer to stopping this disease… for good!
Hereditary and Genetic Factors
Two main concerns for breast cancer development are a family history of the disease or the inheritance of the BRCA gene (Breast Cancer Gene). Having a first-degree relative (meaning a mother, sister, etc.) who has had breast cancer approximately doubles your risk for being diagnosed.
As well, a normally functioning BRCA gene helps to suppress the growth of cancer cells. However, when this gene is mutated, it can no longer control cancer growth, making women 85% more susceptible to developing breast cancer. If several family members have developed breast cancer, it is crucial that you talk to your doctor about hereditary breast cancer and possible genetic testing.
Alterations to Hormone Levels
Estrogen is a hormone that controls the growth rate of breast cells. Having hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or taking any oral birth control that contains both estrogen and progesterone can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. This is especially true with women who have been using oral birth control or HRT for 10 years or more, or who have just recently stopped these treatments within the last 10 years. Both HRT and oral contraceptives can be necessary for health-related reasons and for preventative measures. However, it’s important to educate yourself on the potential risks associated with both in order to make an informed decision.
Factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, and obesity can also increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Living a healthy lifestyle will not only decrease the chance of breast cancer, but it will also decrease the risk for countless other diseases.
Okay… so we’ve all been guilty of this: we say that we NEED to go to the doctor for a check-up but do we actually do it? While it may seem like a waste of time or that we’re too busy, the reality is that we will never regret going to the doctor. The best case scenario is that you are given a clean bill of health and you can go back to living your life. Worst case scenario is that they do find something concerning. However, if that is the case, maintaining regular checkups means early diagnosis and early treatment, therefore increasing the chance of survival. We know you’ve heard this a bunch of times, but we’ll say it again… early prevention is key!
It is never too early to self-examine your breasts for irregularities or abnormalities. While it may feel strange, it’s your body and it’s important to be aware of it! Even if it’s once a week, just be conscious of any changes to your breasts such as lumps, bumps, or anything else that seems out of place. If you notice anything irregular, notify your doctor immediately so you can get to the bottom of it.
In combination with self-examination, it’s important to follow cancer screening guidelines for breast cancer prevention. Mammograms are a low-dose x-ray that are the most reliable in detecting breast cancer in its early stages. Based on the Canadian Cancer Society, the guidelines below should be followed (even if you’re feeling healthy):
- 40-49 years old: talk to your doctor about any potential risk factors and changes in your breasts.
- 50-69 years old: a mammogram every two years.
- 70+ years old: talk to your doctor about the best prevention plan for you.
Ways You Can Help
There are a ton of different ways to help women that have been affected by breast cancer. While monetary donations to breast cancer research and awareness are always appreciated, that may not be an option for everyone. Donating your time to raise awareness for breast cancer is just as effective! There are many walks and marathons (for you ambitious ones) that are in support of breast cancer (such as CIBC’s Run for the Cure).
One thing we often forget to think about are the mental and emotional impacts that breast cancer has on women. Whether we like it or not, breasts can be a defining feature for women. Spending time with women who have breast cancer and making them feel special can make all the difference. Whether it’s giving them a small gift filled with their favourite personal care goodies (think cosmetics, skincare, haircare, etc.) or having a girl’s night out, it’s guaranteed to make them feel special and loved!
Now that you have all the facts, we hope you take the appropriate measures to continue to educate yourselves on breast cancer. Together, we can make a difference and we hope you join us in doing so!