October typically conjures images of orange pumpkins, black bats, red leaves, and yellow candy…not pink. Pink is the color of February and hearts and flowers, and not autumnal October. But, with October comes Breast Cancer Awareness month, marked on the calendars of countries across the world, where we are encouraged to “Think Pink.”
With 458,000 deaths and 1.38 million new cases worldwide each year, breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers out there, especially among women. Every two minutes, a woman in the United States is diagnosed. And while it is most common in women, men are not immune. In 2020 alone, an estimated 2,620 men are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S., with roughly 520 dying from the disease.
If wearing pink all month helps promote awareness, so be it.
The good news is that recent years have seen decreases in the prevalence of breast cancer as well as higher survival rates due to reduced use of hormone replacement therapies after menopause, better screening, and early detection. And while there is nothing that can be done to prevent a breast cancer diagnosis, there are steps to take to improve health, as with any disease, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, decreasing stress, and performing regular self-exams in order to catch symptoms early.
Additionally, it’s important to educate oneself and dispel some of the myths out there.
Myth #1: Women Only
As discussed previously, breast cancer affects both men and women. Men are encouraged to perform a breast self-exam as well as there tends to be a higher mortality rate for men diagnosed due to decreased awareness and ignoring the symptoms. In men, breast cancer is usually detected as a hard lump under the areola and nipple. Don’t let pride get in the way of asking your doctor.
Myth #2: If I find a lump, I have cancer
Luckily, only a small percentage of lumps turn out to be cancer. This is not to say lumps should be ignored–far from that. Just don’t let your worst concerns destroy your mental health. If you notice a regular lump or change in your breast tissue or appearance, consult your doctor. He or she may order further imaging. Never hurts to look (well, it does, actually, but still not a bad thing to get checked).
Myth #3 Mammograms spread cancer
They may be incredibly uncomfortable; they may squish a part of your body that was never meant to be squished; but they are not going to give you cancer or spread existing cancer around. Mammograms use a small dose of radiation to image the tissue, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. Make sure to schedule regular imaging after turning 40.
Myth #4 I have a family history of breast cancer, so I’m definitely going to get it
Interestingly, only about 10% of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history. While your risk certainly increases, it is by no means a certainty. If you have a first-degree family member like a mother or sister who was diagnosed, then it is recommended to start imaging about ten years prior to the age they were at the time of diagnosis. If anything, not much changes, except increasing the importance of scheduling regular imaging.
Myth #5 Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer
Aluminum in antiperspirants caused a scare across users, but, to date, there have been no significant research studies that provide conclusive evidence of the link between what you use to smell good, and your risk of developing breast cancer. Opt for a natural deodorant for personal reasons, but if you need a boost of protection to avoid wet pits, don’t fear the antiperspirants.
Use October to schedule your screening and ensure you are on the road to good health. We are all in this together.