By Rhonda Schafer-McLean
Once again, October is upon us and we are charged to “Fight Like a Girl” and unite as “Warriors in Pink” against this thing we HATE: cancer. While cancers that plague our gender are not limited to only one month per year, we reserve this month to honor the brave, strong, women among us who are in these godforsaken trenches.
There is amazing news: we are winning the battle. The fight isn’t over, though, so here are five outstanding facts to arm yourself and the rest of our tribe as we continue to wage this war in Pink.
1. Behaviors such as wearing a bra, using deodorant, and putting your cell phone in your bra do NOT increase your risk of breast cancer. Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight CAN decrease your risk of breast cancer 25 to 33 percent. Grab a friend, allow yourself to be supported and smell good, and let’s get those 10,000 steps each day!
2. Family history CAN help us. Fortunately, family history will help predict the most vicious of women’s cancers — the types that prey on the youngest among us and exhibit the worst cure rates. With booming efforts to apply genetic testing via a simple blood test, we can eliminate increased cancer risks for this sector of our compadres. If one of your family members had breast cancer before age 50, you should get a genetic screening test. Ask your doctor; you can tell her or him that I sent you.
3. Predictable cancer only accounts for about 10 percent of breast cancer. Ouch. However, with genetic cancer screening programs gaining actuality in many medical practices, the number of women achieving genetic screening is on the rise. Thankfully, many of the women who test will NOT have a cancer gene. The other great news is that many of these gene-negative women will qualify for enhanced screening protocols designed for high risk women. This additional use of mammogram, clinical breast exams, and MRI improve early detection rates in this subset of high risk women. Further, some of these women may even opt for chemoprevention and surgical intervention before they get cancer based on their very high risk profile. Yes, this is scary, but we know what our grandmothers said about “an ounce of prevention.” Review your family tree with your doctor in detail this year. You might be surprised by what you uncover.
4. Breast cancer deaths have decreased by about 30 percent since the 1970s. No doubt, the 30 percent increased rate of detection for early breast disease relating to the use mammogram has had a significant and correlating effect. The last 10 years has brought the wide-spread application of MRI to high-risk women, including new upgrades in the type of mammogram offered. The potential positive effects of these newest technologies regarding mortality are still being investigated, but knowledge is power. Keep up the amazing work, lady scientists — we will keep our annual “squish” appointments!
5. There are 2.8 million American women living among us who have survived breast cancer. Stand up, cheer, do a happy dance for them; run a 5K, shave your head, donate to the cause, or wear pink with them.