However, for many of us, October is also the month to add another shade to our colour palette. Internationally, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Around the world, people will be wearing ribbons, dressing up, baking, holding fashion shows, organising tea parties, illuminating buildings, and even riding motorbikes to demonstrate their support for breast cancer sufferers and raise funds to combat the disease – and their common theme will be pink.
Few people can be unaware of the scourge of breast cancer: many of us will know somebody who either has had the condition or a scare. Earlier this year the focus of the world’s media was on actress Angelina Jolie, when she opted for a double mastectomy after finding out she was carrying the BRCA1 gene, which also leads to a high risk of ovarian cancer.
But what exactly is breast cancer? Here are some helpful facts and figures about the disease, which should also help to dispel a few myths.*
- Breast cancer is not one single disease; there are several types of breast cancer.
- The number of people being diagnosed with breast cancer is increasing, but the good news is survival rates are improving. This is probably because of more targeted treatments, earlier detection and better breast awareness.
- The biggest risk factor, after gender, is increasing age – 80% of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50.
- Breast cancer also affects men, but it’s rare – around 400 men are diagnosed each year.
- Not all breast cancers show as a lump, and not all breast lumps are breast cancer.
- Less than 10% of all breast cancers run in families, so having someone in your family with breast cancer doesn’t necessarily mean your own risk is increased.
Breast cancer is usually treated with surgery when the tumor is localized, and sometimes by chemotherapy (when indicated), radiotherapy, and, for oestrogen-receptor-positive tumours, adjuvant hormonal therapy. Management of the condition is undertaken by a multidisciplinary team according to national and international guidelines.
In the UK, a collection of leading experts from more than 30 universities has predicted that nearly all women will survive breast cancer by 2050, as treatment becomes so effective that more than 95 per cent of cases will be cured. The academics also expect that tens of thousands of cases will be prevented through improved diet, exercise and cutting back on drinking and smoking. The group has drawn up an action plan on how to tackle the condition over the next few decades. However, they warn that, if nothing is done to improve diagnosis and treatment, 185,000 women will die from the disease between now and 2030.
What we can do?
In the United States, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) is a collaboration of national public service organizations, professional medical associations, and government agencies working together to promote breast cancer awareness, share information on the disease, and provide greater access to services. Founded more than 25 years ago, NBCAM remains dedicated to educating and empowering women to take charge of their own breast health. You can find out more here.
Wherever you are, why not consider taking part in a breast cancer awareness event this month, organise your own, or simply donate to one of the many organisations dedicated to eliminating this condition. Good luck.
Tokyo Tower lit up in pink on October 1, 2007 for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
*Thanks to Breast Cancer Care in the UK for this information.