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October: Breast cancer awareness month

October has been marked the Breast Awareness month since 1985, beginning in America and spreading to dozens of countries across the world, including the United Kindgom. The aim of this month, with its 'pink ribbon' banner is to help keep woman aware and involved in the prevention and early detection of breast cancer, raising community awareness, and fundraising for ongoing research and support.

Breast cancer awareness
© Thinkstock

According to statistics published by Cancer Research UK, in 2009 around 46,000 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed across the UK, 99% of these in women and 1% in men. This makes breast cancer the most commonly occuring cancer in the UK, so well worth being aware about.

Who is at risk of breast cancer?

81% of breast cancer cases occur in women aged 50 and over, with nearly half of these diagnosed in the age group of 50-69. The biggest risk factor for women is age. It is for this reason, and in an effort to catch breast cancer at it's earliest stage, that UK women between the ages of 50-70 are targetted for the national screening programme. Research also seems to point to the role of a hormonal factor in the onset of breast cancer in this age group.

Surprisingly, breast cancer is also the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women under 35, although it is rare. Some 8,000 women under 50 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK. For a small number of women in the under-50 age group, hereditary factors can sometimes come into play with a family link to breast cancer, meaning that it has been diagnosed in other female family members (grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts...).

Looking at worldwide breast cancer figures country-by-country, it becomes obvious that breast cancer is more prevalent in affluent societies, with lifestyle and environmental factors perhaps playing a role. Notably, it would appear that the fact that affluent women put off having children until later in life, increases the risks. For the moment however, there is very little research that has shed solid scientific light on this phenomen.

October and breast awareness

Now there is a happier side to all of this, and that's why the October Breast Cancer Awareness Month is important. Breast cancer does not need to be a fatality, and while the incidence of breast cancer is on the rise, the number of deaths is decreasing.  More than 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer make it to the five-year surival milestone, which means that an estimated 550,000 women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer are today living in the UK.

In the UK, the charity Breast Cancer Care, which was founded under the name of Cancer Education Voluntary Service by Betty Westgate in 1972, takes an active role in the Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Visit Breast Cancer Care to see how you can participate in their Fashion Shows and Pink Fridays. But above all, visit Breast Cancer Care to learn more about breast cancer and the support and advice available to women across the UK. There is a wealth of information, exchange and inspiration for all.

Are you breast aware?

Breast Cancer Care has devised a simple 5 point code to help all women become breast aware. Often a breast anomaly, a first sign that something may be amiss, is visible or can be easily felt. But to know if something is amiss, you should first get to know your breasts from every which way, so that if and when an anomaly appears, you'll know it.

Here's some advice from Breast Cancer Care on what changes you should be looking and feeling for:

  • Changes in size or shape
  • Changes in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling
  • Inverted nipple
  • A lump of thickening of breast tissue
  • Redness or a rash on the skin/around the nipple
  • Discharge from one of both nipples
  • Constant pain in breast or armpit
  • Swelling in armpit/around collarbone

And the five easy steps to being actively breast aware:

  1. Know what is normal for you
  2. Know what to look and feel for
  3. Look and feel
  4. Report any changes to your GP without delay
  5. Attend routine breast screening if you are aged over 50

Sources:

"Breast cancer - UK incidence statistics", Cancer Research UK
The Breast Cancer Care website

Posted 04.10.2010

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