As we celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month I felt that it was important to do just that, celebrate! Celebrate the scientific progress, celebrate the survivors, celebrate the fighters and celebrate the lives of those who fought for as long as they could. This year I want to show how far we’ve come and show that Breast We Can! With any disease you can show depressing statistic because any life lost is tragic. However, today we focus on the statistics that give us hope.
Did you know that Cancer Research UK calculates that about 97% of women diagnosed with Stage 1 cancer will survive beyond 5 years? What does this mean? It means that if breast cancer is diagnosed when it is in the early stage, small, contained within the breast, no spread to skin or lymph nodes or further, then if treated, 97% of women will be around to enjoy life 5 years and counting later. What if it’s not diagnosed at stage 1? Well on average, 85% of women will live beyond 5 years and 75% beyond 10 years (source). Now are these times guaranteed for every individual? No, everyone is different but let’s appreciate how much survival chances have improved! According to Cancer Research UK, the average 5-year survival rate has improved by approximately 34% between the 1970 and 2000s. Women have a 34% higher chance of surviving today and it keeps improving (source)!
So how can we ensure that we maximise our chances? Well firstly, can you prevent yourself from getting breast cancer? The truth is maybe or maybe not. Breast cancer is largely due to spontaneous gene mutations. Some of these run in families, some are just completely random. Other things that increase your risk that you cannot change include your current age and age at first period (younger age increases risk). What you can do though is exercise, since obesity increases you risk. Reproduction before 30, breastfeeding and not taking oral contraceptives also decreases your risk. All this being said though, it’s largely out of your hands and so the most important step we can take is early diagnosis through screening.
Screening guidelines differ by country and within country and so it’s best to learn what the recommendations are for your population. However they are similar enough to explain the general guidelines. The average woman with no family history of breast cancer wants to start mammograms somewhere between age 40-50. If, for instance, your mother had breast cancer you may have to start your screening at 35 and this would likely start with ultrasound screening and mammograms. If you are at high risk with a known high risk mutation, screening can start as early as puberty with MRI scans. Frequency of screening ranges from annually to every 3 years in most countries.
Although cancer is scary and unfortunately takes many lives, with Breast We Can increase our chances or survival by committing to screening! Breast we can!
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