In 1980, Nancy G. Brinker promised her sister, Susan G. Koman, aged 36, who was dying of breast cancer, that she would do everything she could to fight and defeat the disease. Two years later, she founded “Susan G. Komen for the Cure.” Two years after that, in 1984, Nancy was also diagnosed with breast cancer, which she eventually overcame. Nancy still leads the fight for a world free of breast cancer.
A similar organization, the National Breast Cancer Foundation has declared that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You probably see pink everywhere, as it is the adopted color of breast cancer research. Because cancers are often feared as an occupational illness, and because it is a pervasive disease that touches many of us, we are featuring it in this week’s safety tip.
Why do we care?
According to NIOSH, there is a 1 in 8 chance a woman in the US will develop breast cancer. While not as common, some men will develop breast cancer. It is estimated that in 2018, about 480 men will die from breast cancer, as will almost 41,000 women. The only cancer more pervasive in the United States is skin cancer. Even if breast cancer is not work related, that’s a lot of the US workforce being affected by the disease. It could affect your co-worker, your family member, your friend, or you.
What are the risk factors?
There are controllable risk factors and uncontrollable risk factors. The most common uncontrollable risk factor for both men and women is when someone in your family has had breast cancer. Fortunately, there are tests to see if the gene for some breast cancers has been passed along to you.
It is also good that some risk factors are controllable. These are, according to NIOSH:
- Drinking alcohol
- Being overweight or obese
- Not being physical active
- Not giving birth at all or giving birth after age 30
- Not breastfeeding
- Some birth control methods
- Having hormone therapy after menopause
- Getting breast implants
There are some controversial and/or disproven risk factors. If anyone says they contracted breast cancer from using an antiperspirant, wearing a bra, or because they chose to have an abortion, they are incorrect or uninformed, according to the American Cancer Society.
What are the signs/symptoms?
The most common signs are a change in the look or feel of the breast – usually a thickening in one area or a “lump”, a change in the look or feel of the nipple and nipple discharge. It is often difficult to detect a lump in breasts, though, because breast tissue is lumpy by nature. Having a regular mammogram has been a life-saving procedure for many people. Mammograms are capable of detecting cancers forming in breasts when they are still in the early stages, which means they are more easily treated.
However, this is problematic for men. Mammograms are not scheduled for men as a rule, and often, breast cancer in men is not detected until it is in a later stage and more difficult to treat. Additionally, men typically do not report having the early signs and/or symptoms of the disease, which also delays treatment.
So, what can we do?
1. Take note of the signs and symptoms. If you are a female, contact your physician and ask about a mammogram if you have not had one lately. Check with your health care provider, many of which provide free or low-cost mammograms. Or check this link to find a low cost mammogram near you. Low Cost Mammograms
2. Take note of the controllable risk factors. Take action to limit alcohol intake, control your weight, and increase your activity level. You may not be able to control your family health history, but you can take action to lower your risk of cancer. One really great way to accomplish this would be to participate in a walk or run to end cancer.
3. Take note of your family history. If someone, your mother, aunt, sister or grandmother, has had breast cancer, talk to your doctor about getting tested for the gene for that type of cancer.
4. Take time to consider possibly donating to a fund to help support cancer research. It could be the Susan G. Koman Foundation, or the American Cancer Society, or any similar organization. You just might save a life and help someone to stay “in the pink.”