Wednesday, October 15, 2014

All that pink; the facts behind Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, our time to promote education and garner support to combat the pervasive disease. There are walks, charity fundraisers, and plenty of public PSA’s encouraging women to undergo frequent breast cancer screening. In the midst of this much-needed campaign, the color pink is ubiquitous. We see pink ribbons, pink t-shirts, pink bumpers stickers, and even professional football and baseball players lending their support with pink headbands and gloves.

So how did the tradition of representing breast cancer awareness with pink come about?

In the fall of 1991, the Susan G Komen foundation handed out pink ribbons at its New York City race for breast cancer survivors.  The tradition of handing out those pink ribbons grew, and now has become the universal symbol for the cause of Breast Cancer Awareness among women.

But Breast Cancer Awareness Month goes back even further, to 1985 when the American Cancer Society teamed up with pharma giant Imperial Chemical Industries (now part of AstraZeneca,) producers of anti-cancer drugs, and named October the month to rally around fighting the disease.  From the start, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or NBCAM as it’s known, has advocated women getting mammograms for early detection and treatment. 

Following up on that young movement, in 1993, Alexandra Penney, editor-in-chief of a women's health magazine Self, and Evelyn Lauder, Senior Corporate Vice President of the Estée Lauder Companies and breast cancer survivor, founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. They designated the pink ribbon as its symbol and passed them out in in New York City stores, piggybacking on the Estée Lauder brand.

That marketing tactic worked like a charm and now, the pink ribbon is a symbol more recognizable than any other in the world. So if you see pink t-shirts, pink face paint, and even hair died pink you’ll know it’s in support of this great cause.  Even the White House was decorated pink in October of 2008 in honor of NBCAM! 

Rallying around the cause is essential to so many women: 1 in 8 women, (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime.  For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than for any other kind of cancer, aside from lung cancer.  Each year, it’s estimated that over 220,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States, and more than 40,000 will succumb to the disease. As of 2013, there were more than 2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer in our country.  The good news is that thanks to increases in awareness, medical technology, and early detection initiatives, lives are being saved.

Here are some questions and answers about NBCAM and breast cancer, taken word for word from their site at  If you’d like to get involved or make a donation, you can so here:
Breast Cancer FAQs

Can physical activity reduce the risk of breast cancer? 
Exercise boosts the immune system and helps you to keep your weight in check. With as little as three hours of exercise per week, or about 30 minutes a day, a woman can begin to lower her risk of breast cancer. This doesn’t require going to a gym either. Power walking is more than sufficient!

Can a healthy diet help to prevent breast cancer? 
A nutritious, low-fat diet (30 grams or less) with plenty of fruits and green and orange vegetables can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. A high-fat diet increases the risk because fat triggers estrogen production that can fuel tumor growth.

Does smoking cause breast cancer? 
Smoking is a confirmed risk factor for many types of cancer. Recent research in the last year (2012) has confirmed that smoking is a contributing risk factor for developing breast cancer. Additionally, second hand smoke is also a risk factor for cancer. So if you are a smoker, help yourself in a significant way and join a smoking cessation program to help you stop. The day you stop smoking the healing can begin and each week in which you are smoke-free, you give yourself increasing advantages for a healthier life. Smoking also directly contributes to heart and other lung diseases, too.

Can drinking alcohol increase the risk of breast cancer? 

Moderation is key. One drink per day has been shown to slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. Having more than one drink per day has shown to be a more significant risk factor, and the alcohol content doesn’t matter: wine, beer or a mixed drink. Alcohol also increases estrogen in your bloodstream.
Although we know that more than one drink per day increases risks, to date there are no studies that demonstrate directly that the more a person drinks, the greater their risk for cancer. And in some cases, drinking one glass of wine a day can offer heart-health benefit. If you drink alcohol, this is an important topic to discuss with your doctor so that you will know what limits are best for you to observe.

How often should I do a breast self exam (BSE)?
Give yourself a breast self-exam once a month. Look for any changes in breast tissue, such as changes in size, feeling a palpable lump, dimpling or puckering of the breast, inversion of the nipple, redness or scaliness of the breast skin, redness or scaliness of the nipple/areola area, or discharge of secretions from the nipple.
If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes, it is very important that you see a physician immediately. Though 8 out of 10 lumps are benign, all require evaluation to confirm that they are not cancerous.
Women should perform their breast self exam 7-10 days after their menstrual period starts which is also when their breasts are the least tender and lumpy. If they are no longer menstruating, then she should select the same day of the month (first of the month for example) and mark it on the calendar to remind herself when to perform this self exam. What to look for is a change from last month’s exam to this month’s exam. It is not unusual to have lumpy or bumpy breasts.
All women should know the geography of their own breasts. If having trouble remembering, draw a diagram of where the lumps, bumps, grooves, and other findings are felt so that this can be used as a reminder from month to month. There is no added value in doing breast self exams more often than monthly. Also the findings may be different as well, in relationship to where a woman is in her menstrual cycle.

Does a family history of breast cancer put someone at a higher risk?
Although women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. Statistically only 5-10% of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of this disease.

Are mammograms painful? 

Mammography does compress the breasts and can sometimes cause slight discomfort for a very brief period of time. Patients who are sensitive should schedule their mammograms a week after their menstrual cycle so that the breasts are less tender. Your doctor may say it is fine to take acetaminophen an hour before the x-ray is performed to prevent discomfort too.

How often should I go to my doctor for a check-up? 

You should have a physical every year which should include a clinical breast exam and pelvic exam. If any unusual symptoms or changes in your breasts occur before your scheduled visit, do not hesitate to see the doctor immediately.


What kind of impact does stress have on breast cancer? 
In 2012, some research studies have shown that factors such as traumatic events and losses can alter immune system functions, and when immune functions are altered cancer cells may have an opportunity to get themselves established within one’s body. What has been shown is that it is not the fact that a major life crisis has occurred but instead how the individual reacted to this event and coped (or didn’t cope). Therefore, identifying ways to keep your stress level in check is wise.

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