Cancer is scary. It used to be a disease that I only heard my grandma whisper to her friends when they were sitting around the kitchen table talking. It usually went something like this:
“You remember Louise? Remember, she was the one at Uncle Vinny’s wedding that brought the salsa bowl? Well she has “cancer…breast cancer.”
I can still see and hear my grandma leaning over the table–whispering “cancer” to her friends–almost as if saying it out loud might cause her to have it. My, how times have changed.
Breast cancer has gone from being a whispered kitchen table coffee hour conversation between grandmas to a full blown national health campaign aimed at creating awareness among women and about early detection and treatment. There are bumper stickers devoted to “Save the Ta-Tas” and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks in every state with one scheduled somewhere about every month along with pink ribbons on everything from t-shirts to key chains. Personally, I don’t have to think that hard to recall someone I know who has been diagnosed with it, and I bet you don’t either.
According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every year. We know that if detected early at the localized stage, the five year survival rate is 100%. Early detection is key. Early detection starts with breast self-exams, mammograms when recommended, and knowing your family history.
There are factors that have been identified to increase your risk and other factors that can reduce your risk.
Factors that can increase your risk:
- Long term hormone replacement therapy
- Personal history or breast cancer of non-cancerous breast diseases
- Family history of breast cancer
- Radiation therapy to the chest/breast area
- Exposure to DES (a synthetic estrogen)
- Dense breast determined by mammogram
- Drinking alcohol
How to reduce your risk of breast cancer:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Limit alcohol
- Do not smoke
- Avoid or limit menopausal hormone therapy
Being armed with facts, having a good relationship with your doctor and knowing your risks can help. It’s good that cancer is no longer a diagnosis that needs to be whispered and awareness is the first step to finding a cure.