October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October 04, 2016

October is quite a month. Coming from the Latin word "octo" meaning eight, October was originally the eighth month of the Roman calendar. As January and February were added and the world transitioned to the Georgian Calendar, October became the tenth month! October's birthstones are opal and pink tourmaline. Libra and Scorpio are the Zodiac signs that fall in October.

In was in October when Columbus landed in America (1492), Nevada (1864) became the 36th state, free rural mail delivery started in the US (1896) and the first presidential telecast was made (1947, Harry Truman). October is national chili month, pizza month, cookie month and dessert month. October is also the month of awareness for Lupus, Spina Bifida, blindness and sudden infant death syndrome.

Arun Nagaul, MD
Medical Director of Long Term Care
Rochester Regional Health Eastern Region

I am a fan of October's fall leaves, the World Series and Halloween.  In recent years however, October has become synonymous with the color pink representing Breast Cancer Awareness month.  Pink ribbons, NFL pink penalty flags, and pink grocery store bags are signs of how Breast Cancer Awareness Month is embraced.  The pink campaign began in 1992 with Evelyn Lauder, a breast cancer survivor and the daughter-in-law of the late Estee Lauder, partnering with Self magazine's editor Alexander Penney.  They launched a “Pink Ribbon Campaign” to remind women, who stopped at cosmetic counters, to schedule yearly breast cancer screenings.

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer within their lifetime. Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in woman and is the second leading cause of cancer death in woman (behind lung cancer).  In 2016, it is estimated that over 300,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed and more than 40,000 women will die of their cancer.  Although breast cancer is rare in men, an estimated 2,500 men are diagnosed each year with 20 percent dying. A man's lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.

The good news, in part to the decline of hormone replacement therapy after menopause, is that there has been a reduction in female breast cancer rates in women ages 50 and older. Also, death rates from breast cancer have been declining since 1990, in large part due to early detection, increased awareness, and improving treatments.  The risk of dying from a breast cancer diagnosis is one in 28 - significantly better odds then from previous decades.

Breast self-exams are a key part of early detection. If something feels abnormal, call your doctor and further testing will be ordered. Mammograms are the other crucial tool in making an early diagnosis. The recommendations for when to obtain a screening mammogram can be confusing.

The recommendations for screening mammograms can be as confusing as those food warning labels on milk and other products.  I mean, "sell by" this date is not helpful. "Best by" this date, not so helpful, either.  I love my kids, and I do spoil them, but they do not need to consume the Oreos or Pringles at their best! A more helpful label would be, "if you consume this product after this date, you will get deathly ill!"

Some professional organizations recommend screening mammograms to start in your 50s. Most however, still recommend screening mammograms to start in your 40s. If you have risk factors for breast cancer like the BRCA gene, strong family history, or previous radiation to your chest,  your doctor may recommend screening even sooner than age 40. 

Rochester Regional Health will host Breast Cancer Awareness events throughout the month of October. Keep an eye out on our website and Facebook page for these great events that you are invited to take part in.   

Stay healthy, enjoy October, and remember the quote by Benjamin Franklin, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Topics: Breast Cancer