1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. That means that on average, every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF).
These are scary statistics, especially when over half of the veterinary community is made up of incredible and strong women. But (and this is a big but for the boobs), the silver lining is that when breast cancer is diagnosed at a localized stage (the cancer hasn’t spread outside the breast), the survival rate is 99%.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s so important to be informed about early detection and prevention if you are a woman who has not been diagnosed with breast cancer. Veterinary professionals are constantly caring for others, particularly our furry mammals. It’s time they start looking after their mammaries, too!
Breast cancer awareness starts with awareness of your own body. It’s encouraged that women of all ages perform a self-check at least once a month. An organization based in the UK called “Vet Your Breasts” has an aim to put up this poster in every veterinary changing room or bathroom to remind people to regularly check. They say that a good time is when you change your scrub top, which only takes 3 minutes altogether.
Before beginning a self-check, it’s important to be aware of changes in your breasts (tenderness, changes in skin texture, swelling, and changes in size/shape, etc.). Whether you perform a self-check in the practice or at home, here’s how to do it: “With the pads/flats of your 3 middle fingers, check the entire breast and armpit area pressing down with light, medium, and firm pressure. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, hardened knot, or any other breast changes.” If you happen to feel something out-of-the-ordinary, don’t panic! The NBCF says that 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. For peace of mind, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Routine breast cancer screening by a doctor should be looked into as well if above the age of 40.
Risk Factors & Prevention
While most patients will never know exactly what caused their breast cancer, there are risk factors that come into play. The NBCF says that it’s a combination of genetic and environmental factors that cause the cell’s DNA to become damaged. Some genetic factors include being female, 55 years of age or older, caucasian, and someone whose mother, sister, father, or child was diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer. The environmental risk factors are lack of physical activity, poor diet, being overweight or obese, frequent alcohol consumption, radiation to the chest, and hormone replacement therapy.
Interestingly, 60-70% of people with breast cancer have no connection to these risk factors at all, says the NBCF. While that’s a large percentage, it still means 30-40% of patients have been affected by these risks; so it’s important to reduce your risk by engaging in healthy habits, such as maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, eating fruits and vegetables, not smoking, and limiting alcohol.
Be Your Breast
These facts, figures, and tips are not meant to scare you: it’s the total opposite. Like most things, knowledge is power, and knowing how to detect breast cancer before it spreads, as well as the risk factors and prevention strategies, can only bring us closer to a world where fewer women (and men) die from this terrible disease.
For more information, resources, and support, visit www.nationalbreastcancer.org
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