Ever since I can remember, pink has been a girl color. It’s how new moms tell the world that their squishy-faced newborn baby isn’t a boy, it’s how pre-teens prove they are cool girls by adding streaks to their hair, and it’s how little girls express their sense of femininity in their clothes. But pink means something else this month – it is the color of strength. It represents being faced with the worst possible news you can imagine, and pushing through it even when you thought you couldn’t. It stands for facing death and surviving. That’s because pink is the official color of Breast Cancer Awareness month, and it is worn proudly by brave women and men who have fought, or are currently fighting the disease, and everyone else who wants to help raise awareness.
Many people know it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, but they aren’t familiar with all the details on what breast cancer is and whom it affects. To help us better understand, we talked to Betsy Booth, manager of patient navigation nurses at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Plano, and Kathy Badali, manager of women’s imaging at Methodist Richardson Medical Center.
“One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime,” explained Booth. “There will be more than 250,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in the United States this year, and it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Early detection and treatment offer the most successful outcomes for those diagnosed with the disease.”
“Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers,” said Badali. ”Currently, the average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 12 percent.”
Those numbers may seem terrifying, but they don’t have to be. It is important to visit with your healthcare provider concerning your breast health and develop a personalized breast cancer-screening plan. “Generally, it is advisable for women ages 40 and older to begin having annual mammograms. In addition, women may have a clinical breast exam by a healthcare provider and develop breast self-awareness by looking for any changes in their breast health. Women with a family or genetic history of breast cancer may benefit from screening at an earlier age.”
And just because you don’t have a family history of the disease, doesn’t mean you should skip your annual exam. The number one risk of developing breast cancer? Simply being a female! “Only five to eight percent of all breast cancers have a family or genetic link,” said Booth. “Therefore, it is important for all women to empower themselves with breast cancer knowledge and screening plans.”
So how do you know if you have breast cancer? There are many different types of cancer, so it’s not always obvious that something is wrong. Booth recommends reporting any changes to your breasts to a healthcare provider.
Some concerning changes to look out for include a lump in the breast tissue or a swollen lymph node under the arm or collarbone. Other signs to report include breast swelling, skin irritation or thickening, skin dimpling, pain, redness, nipple retraction or nipple discharge. Sharing these changes with your healthcare provider will allow him or her to assist in obtaining appropriate tests or images needed to offer early detection and treatment.
“The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass,” said Badali. “A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft or rounded. They can even be painful.”
If you do have breast cancer, your health care provider will develop a breast cancer treatment plan that is individualized based on your cancer staging, tumor markers, personal history and family history. Treatment could include surgical removal of the cancer, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy or chemotherapy.
Don’t let the facts scare you – Booth mentioned that there is some good news concerning breast cancer as well. “Breast cancer death rates for women have dropped 39 percent between 1989 and 2015,” said Booth. “This is in part due to better screening tools, such mammography, and improvements in treatment options. In addition, healthy lifestyle choices such as maintaining a healthy weight, increasing physical activity, living tobacco-free, and moderating alcohol consumption have all been shown to reduce a woman’s risk of cancer.”
And mammograms are easier than ever to get. “All patients should know that the State of Texas passed a bill that states all Texas insurances will pay for 3D mammography imaging effective September 1, 2017,” said Badali. “All patients should take advantage and make sure that you get a 3D Mammogram.”
This month, wear pink proudly to show your support for fighting breast cancer. And maybe one day a cure for breast cancer will be found, and pink can go back to just being a girl color.