It is October again and there is pink all around to remind us that it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which has become a nationwide campaign to increase awareness of this disease which takes an estimated 40,500 lives per year. Although breast cancer is highlighted during October, breast health should be in our minds throughout the year. Whether or not you have a family history of breast cancer, breast health is a discussion to have with your health care professional at any time.
An important initial step is to become more informed about breast issues, especially those which may apply to you. If breast cancer has occurred in your family, you may be at a higher risk yourself. In some cases, genetic testing may be beneficial and recommended to further assess your risk. Additionally, regardless of your family history, you should consider how your diet and lifestyle affect your risk. It turns out that many things that are not good for your overall health (excessive alcohol use, smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise) are also suspected to increase breast cancer risk. After learning more about your own breast cancer risk, you may want to focus on specific lifestyle changes to reduce your chances of getting the disease. Discussing this with your health care provider may give you some tools to enable you to successfully make the desired lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes are never easy, so getting emotional support from those around you, such as family, friends, and co-workers, can increase your chances of success. If you do develop a breast symptom such as a lump, nipple discharge, pain, or skin changes, remember that seeking care early for your breast symptom may be the biggest factor in determining the ease and success of treatment if cancer is present.
Unfortunately, breast cancer remains the most common cancer diagnosed in women, with 1 out of 8 women likely to have this diagnosis during their lifetime. We therefore encourage you to do all you can to reduce your overall cancer risk, continue to be vigilant/aware of symptoms, and get routine screenings per your health care provider’s recommendation.
Karen Reifenstein, Ph.D., RN, is currently at the University of Rochester in the School of Nursing as an Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing, Faculty Diversity Officer, School of Nursing Program Director for Dual Degree Nursing Students, and Director for School of Nursing Education for Diversity and Inclusion. Her research interest is breast cancer among African American women, health disparities among minority populations, and participation of minority populations in breast cancer research.
Candice A. Lucas, EdD, MBA is the Executive Director of St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center, a nonprofit agency providing health and human services to uninsured and underinsured populations. She is also the Chair of the African American Health Coalition. Her research interest is in breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer prevention and breast cancer inequities, specifically Triple Negative Breast Cancer, among African American women.