What Every Collegiate Woman Needs To Know About Breast Cancer

Midterms, finals, dating, hook-ups, STRESS.  College is already a stressful time for young women, but when you’re dealing with health problems too, the fun of college just disappears.  Breast cancer, in particular, can overshadow these supposedly happiest years of your life. When you hear about breast cancer, you often hear about women a little older, but women as young as 15 can develop the disease. As educated collegiate women, we need to arm ourselves with the knowledge to be able to support ourselves and our peers through potentially difficult times, while also spreading awareness. In the United States alone, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, meaning that the disease affects almost everyone.  Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide, and the second most likely cancer to kill women. With more than 3 million breast cancer survivors (those currently being treated and those who have finished treatment) in the United States alone, the likelihood that you or someone you know has been affected by breast cancer is high.  

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Most women who get breast cancer have no family history of the disease, although having a family history does put you at a higher risk.  As you get older, your risk also increases, so it is extremely important that you learn about your risks and the signs to keep an eye out for.  There are a few risks that involve race. For instance, Ashkenazi Jewish women are at a higher risk for possessing a BRCA gene mutation which has been associated with the higher likelihood of being diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age. African American women are more likely to be diagnosed before age 40.

Furthermore, women with dense breasts on mammograms are at a higher risk of breast cancer than women with average breast density. Women who start menstruating early or go through menopause later (overall ending up with a higher number of menstrual cycles) are also at a higher risk because of the increased exposure to estrogen and progesterone.  Research has also shown that women who breastfeed for a year or longer may reduce the risk due to the interrupted periods.

While these are all risks shown from research, it would still, of course, be best to talk to your individual physician to estimate your own personal risk.  While the American Cancer Society does not recommend women to start annual mammograms at age 40, those at elevated risk levels should have the choice to start earlier.  Once you know the risks, you should focus on learning about how to potentially lower them.  Exercise reduces the risk for women of all body types, with a recommendation of 150 minutes or moderate exercise per week, but some research has shown that even 30 minutes a week can have a positive impact.  Minimizing alcohol can also control risk; limiting your intake to about one drink per day can control your risk. In addition, smoking can increase your risk for not only breast cancer, but also other diseases, with studies showing younger women who smoke to be at increased risk levels.  

 

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If you or someone you know is diagnosed with breast cancer, a second opinion is always recommended.  National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers also have higher survival rates of breast cancer.  Those diagnosed also have several options. Women can choose to undergo mastectomies or lumpectomies to either remove one or both breasts or the lump of cancer.  There are different degrees of mastectomies that are considered “breast-conserving surgeries” to limit the amount of breast tissue removed. Radiation therapy after surgery is also an option for some patients depending on the tumor. It is also recommended that you check yourself for lumps on your own because most cases of breast cancer are not caught by a doctor.  So check yourself because you know yourself best.  

Free stock photo of romantic, holidays, alcohol, partyAround Los Angeles, there are several events during Breast Cancer Awareness month that you can partake in to help raise awareness. For example, Eventbrite has a list of activities around Los Angeles such as pilates, hip hop, painting and brunch. There are also volunteer opportunities and free screenings available in the area.  

Every collegiate woman should be concerned about the risk of breast cancer and should work to help raise awareness and money for research.  Breast cancer affects almost every life on the planet, so it is only to our benefit to pay attention to the risks and signs. We should try our hardest to provide support whenever possible. Get involved in this month’s Breast Cancer Awareness activities and think pink!!