It’s October, which means it’s breast cancer awareness month 2022 – time to raise awareness for breast cancer! 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer death in women.

According to research, about 12.4 percent or 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

While the survival rates for breast cancer are high, it’s still important to catch it early and get treated as soon as possible.

There are many ways you can get involved in breast cancer awareness month. You can raise money for research, support those affected by the disease, spread the word about the importance of early detection, etc. But no matter how you choose to get involved, you can help make a difference in the fight against breast cancer.

What is breast cancer awareness month?

Breast cancer awareness month is an annual campaign to increase breast cancer awareness. The campaign runs throughout October and aims to promote early detection and treatment of the condition.

It also helps highlight all the amazing progress made in the fight against this disease. From new treatments to early detection, so there’s a lot to be hopeful about

How to be a part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2022

  • Support those affected by the disease
  • Spread the word about the importance of early detection
  • Donate to breast cancer research or organization
  • Wear pink throughout the month to show your support
  • Attend a local charity event or breast cancer walk
  • Encourage loved ones to get screened for breast cancer
  • Talk about your personal experience with breast cancer, whether it’s yourself, a friend, or a family member
  • Raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer
  • Educate yourself and others about breast cancer risks, symptoms, and treatment options

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops from breast tissue.

It can occur in both men and women, but it is far more common in women, with less than 1 percent of the cases being men. Most cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women over the age of 50, but it can occur at any age.

Breast cancer usually starts off as a small lump or mass in the breast that may not be noticeable. However, over time, the lump may grow larger and begin to cause symptoms such as pain, nipple discharge, or a change in the size or shape of the breast. 

If breast cancer is not caught early and treated, it can spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening.

Risk factors for developing breast cancer

Many factors can contribute to an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer. While some of these factors cannot be changed or controlled, others may be influenced by lifestyle choices or other factors. 

Breast cancer awareness month

Some of the most common breast cancer risk factors include:

Non-modifiable risk factors

These are risk factors that you have no personal control over. They are still important to know, just to understand your risk.

1. A positive family history of breast cancer

This is perhaps the most significant risk factor, as having a close relative with breast cancer can increase your own risk by up to three times.

Having a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) with breast cancer increases your risk by about two-fold. 

The risk is highest if the affected family member was diagnosed at a young age. Having multiple family members with breast cancer further increases your risk.

If you have a family history of breast cancer, you should talk to your doctor about your risks and what you can do to reduce them. There are several lifestyle changes that can help lower your risk.

2. Early menarche

Early menarche (the onset of menstruation) has been linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer later in life. This is thought to be due to the longer lifetime exposure to the hormone estrogen, which is involved in the development and growth of breast tissue. 

Estrogen is generally important for the development of female sexual characteristics and the regulation of the menstrual cycle. 

However, breast cancer is an estrogen-dependent type of cancer, meaning that exposure to high estrogen levels for longer periods can increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

This is because estrogen stimulates the growth of breast cells, and high estrogen levels can cause these cells to grow uncontrollably, leading to cancer.

Additionally, estrogen can promote the development of blood vessels that feed tumors, making them larger and more challenging to treat. 

You can take steps to reduce your exposure to high levels of estrogen, such as avoiding hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills.

3. Late menopause

Studies have shown that women who experience late menopause (after age 50) have a higher risk of breast cancer than those who enter menopause early (before age 45). Like in early menarche, this may be due to the longer exposure to estrogen.

Like early menarche, late menopause exposes you to prolonged high estrogen levels, which increases your risk of breast cancer.

4. Old age

As you age, you’re more likely to develop cell abnormalities that can lead to cancer. 

Also, the longer you live, the more exposure you have to environmental and lifestyle factors that can increase your risk for the disease.

5. Dense breast tissue

According to the National Cancer Institute, women with dense breasts are four times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with less dense breasts.

Dense breast is made up of more glandular and connective tissues and less fatty tissue. This makes it harder to detect abnormalities on a mammogram, thus providing more opportunity for abnormal cell growth leading to cancer. 

Also, dense breasts have more blood vessels, which can provide a direct pathway for cancer cells to spread through the body.

There are a few things you can do to lower your risk if you have dense breasts. First, get regular screenings. Keep in mind that mammograms may not be as effective at detecting cancer in dense breasts. 

Always be sure to see a doctor if you notice any changes in your breasts, such as a lump or a change in shape or size.

You can also take steps to reduce your overall risk of breast cancer, such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and limiting alcohol consumption. And if you have a family history of breast cancer, you may want to discuss additional screening options with your doctor.

Modifiable breast cancer risk factors

There are some risk factors that you can possibly change in order to lower your risk. Here are a few:

1. Obesity

According to research, obesity is a risk factor for developing breast cancer. Research estimates that being overweight or obese increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by about 20%.

There are several reasons why obesity increases the risk of breast cancer. First, obese women have more fatty tissue. This tissue produces hormones, such as estrogen, that can stimulate the growth of cancer cells. Second, obese women tend to have higher levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). These hormones have also been shown to promote the growth of cancer cells.

Third, obesity can increase inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation can damage DNA and lead to the development of cancer. Finally, obesity can reduce the effectiveness of some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy leading to a poor prognosis.

If you are obese, you can reduce your risk of breast cancer by losing weight. Even a small amount of weight loss can make a difference. 

2. Not having children

Many women choose not to have children for various reasons, but new research suggests that childlessness may increase the risk of breast cancer.

According to a study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, not having children is associated with a 20-25% increased risk of breast cancer. The study looked at data from over 1 million women in the United Kingdom and found that those who had never given birth had a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who had.

The increased risk was most pronounced in women who had never been pregnant, while women who had experienced a pregnancy but did not give birth had a slightly elevated risk. The researchers believe that the higher risk is due to the fact that childless women have higher levels of the hormone estrogen, which has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Having your first child after 30 years and not breastfeeding your children were also shown to contribute to breast cancer.

3. Alcohol consumption

We all know that alcohol consumption can negatively affect our health, but did you know that it can also increase your risk of developing breast cancer?

According to the World Health Organization, alcohol is a major modifiable risk factor for breast cancer, causing about 7 of every 100 new breast cancer cases.

According to a recent study, women who drink just one alcoholic beverage daily have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who don’t drink at all. And the more alcohol you consume, the greater your risk becomes.

This is because alcohol can increase estrogen levels in the body, which is a risk of breast cancer.

Additionally, alcohol consumption can damage DNA, which can also lead to an increased risk of cancer.

So if you’re concerned about your breast cancer risk, cutting back on alcohol is a good place to start. Even better, quitting altogether may provide the greatest reduction in risk.

4. Use of oral contraceptives

If you’re a woman using birth control pills, you may want to reconsider. A new study has found that taking oral contraceptives increases the risk of developing breast cancer by 20-30 percent.

The study, which was conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, looked at data from 1.8 million women between the ages of 25 and 44. They found that those who took birth control pills had a higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who didn’t use them.

Birth control pills contain hormones that can stimulate the growth of cancer cells. They also can suppress the body’s immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off cancer cells.

To lower your risk, discuss with your doctor alternative non-hormonal birth control methods.

5. Previous history of breast cancer

If you have a history of breast cancer, you may be at an increased risk of developing the disease again. This is because previous breast cancer can leave behind changes in the breast tissue that make it more likely for cancer to develop.

Also, cancer cells can remain in your body after treatment and grow into new tumors. Additionally, certain treatments for breast cancer, such as radiation therapy, can increase the risk of recurrence.

Early signs of breast cancer

  • Non-tender, firm, or hard lump with poorly delineated margins. Some may present with painful breast lumps due to additional factors like a superimposed infection.
  • Skin or nipple retraction
  • Breast asymmetry may be noted
  • Nipple erosion
  • Watery, serous, or bloody discharge from the nipple

Breast cancer screening options:

There are several options you can utilize in order to screen for breast cancer:

1. Breast self-examination

  • It is very important to perform breast self-exams regularly to check for any early signs of cancer, especially breast lumps. One way to do a breast self-exam is to massage your breasts.
  • Start by standing in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. Using the pads of your fingers, massage your breasts in a circular pattern, moving from the outer edge of your breasts inward. Be sure to cover the entire surface of each breast.
  • This exam is best done while bathing or showering
  • All women over the age 20 years should examine their breasts monthly.
  • Premenopausal women should perform the examination 5-7 days after completion of menses when breast tissue is less dense
  • Postmenopausal women should pick a particular date each month for the examination.

2. Mammography

A mammogram is the only reliable means of detecting breast cancer before a mass can be palpable in the breast.

It’s useful in evaluating the breast for calcifications, skin thickening, architectural distortion, nipple changes, and axillary adenopathy (changes in size and consistency of lymph nodes in the armpits).

However, its sensitivity is decreased significantly in young patients with dense breast tissue and possibly with augmentation prosthesis.

3. Ultrasound

Ultrasound is mainly used to distinguish solid from cystic breast lesions. In the workup of nonpalpable mass, an ultrasound can be used to guide a needle biopsy or to place a localizing wire to direct an excisional biopsy.

Other imaging methods like CT and MRI are used to determine how far a cancer has metastasized

Best lifestyle changes and practices to prevent breast cancer

  • Get physically active
  • Limit alcohol intake or avoid it entirely
  • Avoid exposure to environmental pollutants and toxins
  • Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get regular breast screenings. While mammograms aren’t perfect, they’re still the best tool we have for detecting breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable.
  • Perform regular breast exam
  • Breastfeed your babies
  • Limit hormonal therapy

Final Thoughts

The month of October is an important time of the year as we get to raise awareness about breast cancer. This can help promote prevention, early detection, and treatment to help improve health and prevent further disease progression.

There are many different factors that can contribute to an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer. Some of these factors like age and family history, are out of our control. However, there are also lifestyle-related breast cancer risk factors that we can do something about.

Maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise are two of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of breast cancer. Eating a healthy diet and limiting your alcohol intake can also help lower your risk.

If you have any concerns about your personal breast cancer risk factors, be sure to speak with your doctor. They can help you assess your risk and make recommendations for how to best protect yourself.