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October: National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is national breast cancer awareness month. As you sip your pumpkin spice lattés and observe the falling leaves across campus, settle in with some cold hard facts regarding women’s health. Although mortality rates have significantly decreased since the late nineties, breast cancer continues to be a very real threat; According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. In 2013 alone, about 232,340 new cases will be diagnosed in women, and about 39,620 women will die from the disease.

Let us start out on a positive note: Currently, there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors, and death rates have decreased over the course of the past decade due, we think, to increased awareness and earlier detection and treatment rates. Movements such as NBCAM and “Beyond the Shock”- spaces for women to learn more about the disease and inherent risk factors- have contributed to an increased trend in health.

What are the risk factors, or potentialities (whether alterable or unalterable) that will affect a breast cancer diagnosis? The foremost among these is Gender. Although men can develop breast cancer, the disease is about 100 times more common in women. Why are women so susceptible? The American Cancer Society tells us that the female hormones estrogen and progesterone promote cancerous cell growth. Another significant risk factor is Aging—as we grow older, our chances of succumbing to breast cancer increase dramatically. Other basic elements of human life may also contribute: Genetic makeup, family history, and race/ethnicity included. (Apparently, white women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African American women, and Asian, Hispanic, and Native American women are significantly lower at risk.

The factors listed above are sadly unavoidable, but there are numerous lifestyle risk factors that are potentially changeable. For example, studies have shown that women who take oral contraceptives are slightly more susceptible to breast cancer than those who don’t, due again to the level of hormones circulating and/or produced in our bodies. Alcohol intake is definitively linked to developing breast cancer, and when abused, may also be linked to numerous other types of cancer. Obesity, similarly, increases the woman’s risk of developing the disease. Particularly after menopause, when the ovaries will cease producing estrogen, most of a woman’s estrogen comes from fat tissue. When there is excess fat tissue, the risk of developing breast cancer is higher, due to the raised estrogen levels overall.

Some risk factors you may have heard of, but that are certainly suspect: The notion that wearing bras increases your susceptibility to breast cancer. Again, the American Cancer society tells us that there is no biological or clinical heft to this claim. Similarly, induced abortion—though thought by some to be a major risk factor—has no clear connection to the disease. Finally, breast implants do not increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer, although silicone implants are likely to cause scar tissue to form in the breast.

So what does this mean for us, Brunonians? Spread the word. Debunk pernicious stereotypes, and research the facts about Breast Cancer. While the disease may have diminished from public focus, it nevertheless remains a major threat to our feminine population today. Good sources to consult are the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month website (NBCAM), and the American Cancer Society. If you have a friend or relative who may have been affected by the disease, reach out to lend a helping hand. Let them know that they are not alone, and with the help of (informed) allies, we can move towards a brighter and healthier future. 


All statistics drawn from the American Cancer Society.

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