October signals the return of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a worldwide effort started in 1985 to raise awareness of a disease that affects more than 200,000 women on an annual basis. Though breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among American women, it is both wise and necessary to continue to build awareness. Doing so can reduce the number of women who are diagnosed with the disease, as well as help women who are undergoing breast cancer treatment by helping them examine their different options. Here are some things to keep in mind when it’s time to go pink.
1. Breast cancer is everyone’s problem
Breast cancer can affect anyone, regardless of age, economic bracket, or racial background. Women with a family history of the disease are, unsurprisingly, at higher risk, especially when breast cancer has affected a close relative, such as a mother or sister. Given breast cancer’s unfortunate prevalence, chances are a woman will have a friend, coworker, or neighbor who has been affected by it. Acknowledging cancer’s presence is but one step in the fight to eradicate the disease.
2. Risk reduction is paramount
While breast cancer can’t be prevented, women can take steps to reduce their risk. Start with a monthly breast self-exam, which will help women recognize changes that may require a doctor’s attention. These changes might include a change in breast or nipple shape, size, texture, or problems like swelling, lumps, or nipple discharge. The presence of one of these conditions does not necessarily mean a woman has breast cancer. It does, however, signal a good time to speak with one’s doctor. Scheduling annual exams and mammograms can help with risk reduction. While some decry mammograms’ effectiveness, the American Cancer Society still recommends annual checkups beginning at age 40. Women with a family history of breast cancer should start getting checkups at age 35. Early detection is the key to survival.
3. Help the body
Keeping one’s cancer risk as low as possible includes being kind to the body. Quitting smoking – or not starting in the first place – is a good step, along with regular exercise and a diet that includes a selection of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Body fat stores estrogen, a surplus of which can stimulate breast cancer growth. Healthy measures can even help women who are undergoing breast cancer treatment. A diet of unprocessed foods will benefit the body in its attempts to heal, as will simple physical activity like walking around one’s neighborhood.
4. Raise awareness
Consider volunteering to help a local cancer agency effort. One of the most accessible opportunities is to volunteer at a walk that raises money to support breast cancer research, such as those organized by well-known organizations like the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Raising and/or donating money is a great way to let people know the search for a cure is not over. Walking on behalf of someone affected by the disease can help raise awareness of just how many women live with, have survived, or lost their lives to the disease.
Ideally, these steps will lead to year-round mindfulness of breast cancer and its impact on women around the world. One month of recognition and action is a start but it’s only the beginning. Go pink for the cure and help save lives!