Breast Cancer Awareness: Facts & FAQs

October 23, 2018

Pinktober: Test Your Breast Cancer Awareness and Help Others Do the Same

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month -- not just in New York State, not just in the US, but also in many countries across the world.

That gives some idea both of the scales of concern about this disease, which is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. One in every eight women will get the disease.

But there are 3.3 million survivors in the US today. And there are lots of things you can do, both for yourself and others, to raise awareness, understand the risk factors, and take action to cut those risks or get treatment if needed.

Despite the high incidence of the disease, death rates are actually falling thanks in part to greater awareness about it.

Here at Newbridge Coverage, we want to play our part in this global campaign by putting breast cancer and this year's awareness campaign in the spotlight -- or should that be under the microscope?!

Breast Cancer Awareness: Facts & FAQs

First, let's take a brief look at the facts about breast cancer and some common questions.

What Exactly is Breast Cancer?

The non-profit information and campaigning group defines breast cancer as an uncontrolled growth of breast cells arising from mutations or abnormal changes in the genes that regulate these cells.

"Normally, the cells in our bodies replace themselves through an orderly process of cell growth: healthy new cells take over as old ones die out," the organization explains.

"But over time, mutations can 'turn on' certain genes and 'turn off' others in a cell. That changed cell gains the ability to keep dividing without control or order, producing more cells just like it and forming a tumor."

Left unchecked, these malignant cells eventually can spread to other parts of the body.

Depending on where in the breast the tumor occurs, there are several different types, with medical names like angiosarcoma, ductal carcinoma, and invasive lobular carcinoma.

Experts determine the stage cancer has reached on a severity scale of zero to four, depending on how far the disease has spread.

Who's At Risk?

More than 250,000 American women get breast cancer every year and more than 40,000 dies. Globally, about 1.4 million new cases are reported each year, with 458,000 deaths.

In a sense, everyone's at risk -- even men, who account for 1 in a hundred cases.

However, the main risk factors include those who are:

  • Female
  • Aged over 50
  • Carrying certain genes known to increase the chances of getting the disease
  • Smokers and/or drinkers
  • Obese
  • Expecting their first child after age 30
  • Receiving post-menopause hormone replacement therapy

Most -- around 90 percent -- of breast cancers are due to genetic abnormalities that happen through aging and wear-and-tear to the cells.

However, many people who are considered to be at high risk never actually get the illness.

Some people believe things like caffeine, certain deodorants, microwave cookers, and cell phones, or even contact with someone who has the disease, can cause breast cancer but this isn’t true.

Breast Cancer Prevention: How Can I Cut the Risks?

Since early breast cancer detection is among the most effective ways of successfully treating the illness, self-checking, and screening for the disease are crucial.

Self-checking means inspecting your breasts every month or so for the symptoms outlined below. For more information on how to self-check, see this web page: You can also download a Breast Check Now app for iPhones and Android devices.

As regards screening, women in their early 40s should consider starting annual mammograms -- a special type of breast X-ray -- and those from 45 to 54 should definitely be screened every year. After that age, experts say you should have a mammogram every one to two years.

What Are The Symptoms?

Some people have few or no symptoms at all. But the most common ones are:

  • Breast pain
  • Change in breast size, shape, color or skin texture
  • A lump in the breast or armpit. You may not see this, so touch is important.
  • Discharge from the nipple

What Are The Treatment Options?

If you have any concerns at all about your breast health, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Depending on the outcome of tests and diagnoses, you may be offered breast cancer drugs, radiation or chemical therapy, lumpectomy (removal of all or part of the lump), or mastectomy (partial or total removal of the tissue in one or both breasts).

In most if not all cases, the cost of mammograms is covered through health insurance, often without deductibles or copays.

(If you'd like to check this with us -- as well as other aspects of health coverage including specialist cancer insurance -- please contact Newbridge Coverage for a confidential discussion.)

About Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Awareness Month was started in 1985 by the American Cancer Society and pharmaceutical giant Astra Zeneca. It's sometimes called Pinktober, reflecting the use of the pink ribbon logo for breast cancer campaigning.

In the US, it's supported by a huge number of cancer charities, research foundations, and several government health-related organizations. There are lots of events and campaigns both nationally and locally, including fund-raising marathons for research, seminars and media campaigns.

What's Happening in NYS?

Here in New York State, there's bad news and good news about the incidence of breast cancer.

The bad news is that the number of women suffering the disease is rising steadily. Forty years ago, there were 9,422 cases statewide. Today, latest available (2015) figures show 16,359. Put another way, 101.8 of every 100,000 women in the state were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1976, rising to 134 per 100,000 in 2015.

The good news is that the proportion of deaths from breast cancer is moving in the opposite direction, declining from 38.8 deaths per hundred thousand females to 18.9 over the same period. (Source: New York State Cancer Registry).

Undoubtedly, greater awareness about the disease has contributed to this fall, so it's not surprising there's a great deal of support in the state during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The State Senate has issued a statement of support, encouraging women to consult with their healthcare providers to learn more about the disease, discuss their concerns and develop a plan for breast cancer screening.

There are also many events taking place in and around New York and Long Island, such as awareness brunches, seminars and, on October 27, a Run In Pink, a sponsored walk and a fashion and social event. Learn more about what's happening here:

Final Words

Knowing about and detecting breast cancer is, first and foremost, your responsibility. In that case, fear and ignorance that results in lack of action are your worst enemies.

Let's all work together to defeat them by raising awareness and through regular self-detection and screening.