It is estimated that there will be 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 48,530 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer diagnosed in the US in 2020*. Being diagnosed with breast cancer is no longer a death sentence. In fact, more than 3.8 million US women with a history of breast cancer were alive as of January 1, 2019**. It is probable that every person reading this article knows someone who has had breast cancer, who currently has breast cancer, or who has succumbed to breast cancer.
Are you wondering why you’re reading about breast cancer from a personal injury law firm? We are writing about it because anyone can be affected by breast cancer – regardless of race, age, gender (yes, men can have breast cancer too!), occupation or status. At Clifford Law Offices, many of us have been touched by breast cancer in our personal lives and in our professional lives, we, as attorneys, have advocated for many breast cancer patients. In fact, since October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re teaming up with other Chicago law firms – Cooney & Conway and Romanucci & Blandin – to show support of breast cancer patients and their families (read about that here).
Since 1 in 8 US women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime, we wanted to take a moment to educate more about this topic and share tips on what each woman can do to lower their personal risk of getting this disease.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month & The Color Pink
Chances are you have seen the pink ribbon – the international symbol of breast cancer awareness – around town, or have seen groups of people (usually wearing lots of pink) walking in races to support breast cancer or have purchased a piece of pink merchandise that was specifically made and sold to support breast cancer funding and research in some way. Pink has become the color associated with breast cancer and has been very effective in raising awareness and money for the disease – which is wonderful for the greater good of people who may be diagnosed with it – but is there something more that you can do on a personal level to help prevent or beat it? Yes, there is.
Lowering Your Risk of Breast Cancer
With many decades of research about breast cancer studied, it is now known that there are ways that women can lower their risk of getting the disease. Surprisingly, the list is not long and is relatively simple.
- Keep a healthy weight. Try to stay at a consistently healthy weight throughout your lifetime as increased body weight and weight gain as an adult are linked to a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause. Estrogen comes from fat tissue after menopause. More fat tissue increases the estrogen your body makes, which increases your breast cancer risk. Higher insulin levels – which women who are overweight tend to have – have also been linked to breast cancer.
- Exercise regularly. Exercising regularly will help to maintain a regular weight and lower the risk of breast cancer (and also will lower the risk of heart disease and other diseases). The American Cancer Society recommends getting this amount (or more) of exercise each week:
- 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity (anything that makes you breathe hard and causes a slight increase in heart rate, such as a brisk walk) OR
- 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intense activity (any exercise that causes an increased heart rate, sweating, and a faster breathing rate)
- Limit or avoid alcohol. Even low levels of alcohol intake have been linked to an increase in risk of breast cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol, it is recommended that you drink no more than 1 alcoholic beverage per day.
- Breastfeed your children (if applicable). Breastfeeding can delay menstrual periods which reduces a women’s lifetime exposure to hormones (like estrogen) that can promote cancer cell growth. Try to breastfeed beyond six months for additional protection.
There are other personal choice factors that may raise the risk of developing breast cancer and that includes taking oral contraceptives and/or hormone replacement therapy. Talk to your doctor to become educated about the risks of these medications so you can make an informed decision that is right for you.
Breast Exams to Increase Your Breast Self-Awareness
Routine breast exams – from self-examination to imaging (mammograms and MRIs) – are important tools in detecting breast cancer. Here are ways to increase you breast self-awareness.
- Breast Self-Exams. Self-examination is one of the most common ways that breast cancer is found at an earlier stage – and detection at any earlier stage can make it more treatable. It is advised that women do a self-exam once per month. A self-exam is convenient, easily done at home, and does not cost anything. While the occurrence of breast cancer for a woman in her 20s is low, it is still possible, so it is advised that young women also conduct regular self-exams. Click here for a breast self-exam guide from Breastcancer.org.
- Clinical Exam. A woman should have an exam done by a health care provider annually, starting in her 20s.
- Annual Mammogram. Starting at age 40, it is recommended that all women have a mammogram every year.
If a woman is deemed at higher risk due to a family history of breast cancer or having the breast cancer gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2), she should speak with her physician about creating a plan that may include more options.
Breast cancer will affect every one of us in our lifetime. Honor National Breast Cancer Awareness Month by making a donation to your favorite breast cancer organization, wearing a pink ribbon, or helping someone who is currently going through breast cancer treatment. Also, use it as a reminder to take care of yourself. Schedule monthly self-exams into your calendar, schedule your annual mammogram appointment, and talk to your doctor about your personal risks.
* American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2020. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2020.
** Miller KD, Siegel RL, Lin CC, et al. Cancer treatment and survivorship statistics, 2019. CA Cancer J Clin. 2019:1-23.