What You Can Do About Breast Cancer Awareness
What do you know about breast cancer? And, more specifically, what do you know about breast cancer here in California? If the answer is "not a lot", then now might be a good time to find out more.
There are several reasons. First, more than 26,000 Californians are diagnosed with the disease every year, and more than 4,000 die from it. One in every eight women will suffer from it in their lifetimes.
Second, for reasons that aren't fully understood, the chances of contracting breast cancer are up to 20 percent higher in some parts of LA and Orange County, than the state average.* In the state and throughout the US, it's the most diagnosed cancer for women.
And third, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What better time to increase your own awareness or to help advance understanding of the disease?
What is Breast Cancer Awareness Month?
For more than 30 years, a number of cancer charities, education organizations and government departments have pooled their support for strengthening our understanding of breast cancer, and raising funds for research and treatment, through Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
It's an international campaign marked by events like fund-raising walks, celebrity-supported brunches and dinners, seminars and other educational activities and lots of local on-the-ground happenings.
So, for instance, here in Southern California, events later this month include:
- A breast cancer awareness "roll" at Wood Rydrz Skate Club
- A West Hollywood boxing class organized by activewear brand TIALS
- A Pedal for a Purpose ride at Industry
- A brunch with Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald at Carson Center
In fact, there are scores of local events from San Diego to LA and, even though we're part-way through the month, there are still plenty of activities where you can show your support.
Check out these links for a calendar of events:
Facts About Breast Cancer
The American Cancer Society (ACS) explains that breast cancer "starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. These cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump.
"The tumor is malignant (cancer) if the cells can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get breast cancer, too."
The disease can start from different parts of the breast but most originate in the ducts that carry milk to the nipples.
Checking for Breast Cancer
There are two ways of identifying a potential cancer in the breast -- first by checking your breasts yourself, and second by having a regular mammogram -- an x-ray of the breast area. Medical experts say you should have an annual x-ray between the ages of 45 and 54, and then once every one to two years after that.
Further tests are usually required in a specialist laboratory.
The purpose of a self-check, which should be done every month or so, is to identify changes in the breast that require further investigation. The most common indicator is a lump which may be found in the breast or underarm.
But ACS explains: "Although many types of breast cancer can cause a lump in the breast, not all do. Many breast cancers are found on screening mammograms which can detect cancers at an earlier stage, often before they can be felt, and before symptoms develop. There are other symptoms of breast cancer you should watch for and report to a health care provider."
These other symptoms include breast pain, change in size, shape, color or skin texture, or discharge from the nipple.
Discovering a growth, however, does not immediately signal the present of a cancerous tumor.
"Non-cancerous breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast and they are not life threatening," says the Cancer Society.
"But some benign breast lumps can increase a woman's risk of getting breast cancer. Any breast lump or change needs to be checked by a health care professional to determine if it is benign or malignant (cancer) and if it might affect your future cancer risk."
Tackling Breast Cancer
Depending on the type and severity of the cancer, treatments may range from medications, radio or chemical therapy, to surgery.
And, although thousands die each year from the disease, the number of people who develop it in California has fallen and the number of deaths as a proportion of those who develop it (known as the mortality rate), has dropped by a third since 1988**.
The drop in mortality reflects increased awareness of the disease, early breast cancer detection and improvements in treatment.
Billions of dollars are spent on breast cancer research every year. And there are some promising new discoveries in areas such as new tests and treatment.
Studies continue to try to identify and overcome causes, like genetic factors and lifestyle aspects, such as smoking, drinking and obesity. There's no doubt that leading a healthier lifestyle can play an important part in breast cancer prevention for some.
Even so, at any one time there are an estimated 350,000 people with breast cancer in the state at any one time**.
To learn more about breast cancer, visit the American Cancer Society's website section dealing with the disease: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer.html
There are still more than 6,000 new breast cancer cases every year in Los Angeles County alone**.
That's why it's important that all of us learn and understand more about breast cancer and why self-checking and those annual mammograms are crucial in driving the figures lower.
Almost as important is the need to support events like National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, not least to help raise funders for research and new treatment methods.
Can insurance play a role in this global issue? Certainly -- by helping to pay for treatment, offering protection specifically for critical illnesses such as cancer, and providing life insurance coverage that, in some cases, can help pay for treatment while the policyholder is alive.
If you'd like to know more about these types of insurance, please contact Aldrich Taylor Insurance Agency. And even if you don’t need this information, please join us in supporting this year's annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign.
* Source: California Breast Cancer Mapping Project
** Source: California Cancer Facts and Figures 2017