Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2023: Strength in Numbers

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States after skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.1 

Breast Cancer Awareness Month highlights the importance of timely diagnosis, it is a time to hail the survivors of breast cancer and to remember those who have lost their lives. Many corporate events feature the colour pink, and people wear pink ribbons to show support to people diagnosed with breast cancer or affected by it indirectly.  

No one should face breast cancer alone

Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2023 emphasizes community and collective action. This means a drive to get doctors, patients, their family and friends working together to make sure every breast cancer patient has the best chance of survival. People with breast cancer and their families often face financial challenges, with added costs of treatments, hospital parking fees, time away from work and childcare fees. Treatments and the psychological effects of dealing with breast cancer hit a patient hard, a bit of help with housework and everyday chores can be a life line.

A breast cancer diagnosis is a blow for the whole family. Gathering a posse of pals to take the pressure off a patient and their nearest and dearest, can be a concrete way to help your friend or family member on the road to recovery.

What Should I know?

October is a great time to brush up on:

  • The risk factors for breast cancer
  • How to do self-examination – check out this video from the US National Breast Cancer Foundation.
  • The need to undergo screening checks regularly- take a look at Cancer Research UK‘s rundown of how screening works. Generally screening is recommended every two years for women over 50 until you hit 70, when many regions will expect you see you every 3 years.2 Women under 45 are more difficult to screen because they have very dense breast tissue, so mammograms are less helpful.
  • Supporting people living with breast cancer and their families 
  • Treatment options available for breast cancer.

What Symptoms Should I Look Out for?

If you have any of the following symptoms, book yourself in to see your GP/PCP, it could be an early sign of breast cancer.

Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)

Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)

Breast or nipple painNipple retraction (turning inward)

Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking, or thickened

Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)

Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collar bone (Sometimes this can be a sign of breast cancer spread even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt.)”

quoted from the American Cancer Society3

What Can I do?

You can contribute by:

  • Joining a local community breast cancer awareness campaign 
  • Donating towards breast cancer research 
  • Encouraging your friends and family members to go for screening.
  • Expanding your knowledge on breast cancer 
  • Wearing pink and spread the word 

Beyond the Pink Ribbon

Breast cancer awareness doesn’t stop at screening, diagnosis and treatment. Medical News Bulletin reminds our readers that:

Breast Cancer Occurs In Men

While the incidence of Breast Cancer is lower in men (with a lifetime risk of 1 in 833), it still deserves attention. Men should also watch out for symptoms such as nipple discharge, a lump and any skin changes around the breast.
Men have an average 5 year survival rate of 80% – after diagnosis with breast cancer in the United States of America. The prognosis depends on whether it’s a localized cancer or it has spread to other parts of the body.3

Black Women Are At Higher Risk of Death From Breast Cancer

In countries in the global North, Black women have a higher death rate from breast cancer compared to white women. One of the reasons for this is because black women tend to have more aggressive forms of breast cancer. Black women are also more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 40 years. The United State’s National Cancer Institute is leading the charge to investigate this, awarding a $12 million research grant to research the influence of genes on the higher risk that women of African American women carry.4

Survival Rates Are Dependent on Geography

According to the World Health Organization, in 2020, 2.3 million people were diagnosed with breast cancer globally with 685,000 deaths. The majority of deaths from cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries.5 

While high income countries such as the United States of America and Australia have a 5-year survival rate of about 90% for breast cancer, countries in sub-Saharan Africa have survival rates of 40% with some even having lower rates. The survival rate in India is 66%.

Multiple factors contribute to these unfortunate statistics, for example, low socioeconomic status leads to a lack of access to diagnostic facilities, a shortage of health care providers and public cancer centres due to limited government funds.

Stigma surrounding diseases of the breast, and lower literacy rates all contribute to a dearth of awareness of what early breast cancer looks like and how to get testing and treatment if it’s available. In these situations breast cancers are often diagnosed later than in wealthier regions leading to poorer outcomes.

Collective Spirit

As we mark the breast cancer awareness month, we can make an impact by encouraging people around us to go for screening and supporting people undergoing treatment.  This year, let’s take that collective spirit a step further, and make that support global.