Image credit: Robert Neff

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to promote better research,  treatments, prevention and early-detection methods for breast cancer. According to the Center of Disease Control, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among American women. In 2009, 211,731 women and 2,001 men in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer. The mortality rate of those diagnosed with breast cancer has decreased in the past decade, but the number of people who die of breast cancer each year remains high. In 2009, 40,676 women and 400 men in the United States died from breast cancer.

Breast cancer occurs when there is an abnormal growth (tumor) in the breast tissue that invades and destabilizes other surrounding cells. The tumor has the potential to spread, or metastasize, to other areas of the body.

Scientists are unsure of the direct cause of breast cancer, and there is currently no cure for the disease. Current treatments involve surgery, such as a lumpectomy or mastectomy, and medications including hormone blocking therapy and chemotherapy.

Researchers concur that early detection of breast cancer is key to improving survival rates. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women age 50 to 74 should have a mammogram every 1 to 2 years in order to detect early signs of cancer. You can do your own breast self-exam to detect any lumps or abnormal appearances that could be a sign of cancer.

Breast cancer research has improved greatly in the past decades. Increased access to breast cancer screenings and more effective treatments have saved thousands of lives each year. However, more research, funding, and dedication are needed if we truly want to defeat breast cancer.

What You Can Do

There are certain lifestyle choices one can make that can reduce one’s risk of developing breast cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a low fat diet, and exercising regularly have been shown to reduce one’s risk. Not smoking and limiting one’s alcohol intake have also been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Getting your recommended breast cancer screenings and encouraging your friends and family members to do same can  help detect breast cancer at its earliest stage. You can also participate in  walks and other fundraising campaigns to raise money for breast cancer research.

Breast cancer is a devastating disease that has impacted millions of families. During October, keep in mind the progress we have made in treating breast cancer and the work that is still needed to cure it.