October: Breast Cancer Awareness MonthBy Miriam Bello | Fri, 10/02/2020 - 16:16
Why did the world set a month to increase awareness on this disease? Many cancer deaths can be prevented if the disease is detected on time and breast cancer is among them.
During October, organizations try to bring attention to the most common type of cancer for women around the world. Breast cancer is one of the most common death causes for women living in countries with lower indexes of development or income and the second-most common in countries with higher indexes of development. According to WHO, 627,000 women died from breast cancer just in 2018, representing 15 percent of all cancer deaths among women. According to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), the risk of developing breast cancer doubles each decade until women enter menopause. The risk of premenopausal breast cancer can be exacerbated by regular consumption of alcoholic drinks, greater birthweight and weight gain, according to the Continuous Update Project. After menopause, the risk further increases.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month aims to promote early diagnosis and screening. Through early diagnosis, the patient can receive a proper treatment and reduce their risk of death. While many countries still face healthcare barriers, WCRF explains that attention has been improving worldwide.
Screening is key for prevention. This should be done before women present any symptoms to promote a healthy lifestyle. Up to date, WHO lists various methods for screening: mammography, clinical breast exam and breast self-exam.
- Mammography uses low-energy X-rays to locate abnormalities in the breast. This method has been proven to reduce cancer mortality by 20 percent. WHO recommends systematic mammography screening for women aged 40-49 years or 70-75 years.
- Clinical breast exams consist on the examination of both breasts by a professional. This is an option for low resource areas but is still a promising approach.
- Self-exams have been widely promoted globally to encourage women to first check themselves to feel more confident when approaching a professional. The signs and symptoms to be aware of, according to Mayo Clinic, are:
- A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
- Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast
- Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling
- A newly inverted nipple
- Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin
- Redness or pitting of the skin over the breast, like the skin of an orange
For those suffering from breast cancer, there are many treatments: surgeries, breast reconstruction, hemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy. Moreover, there are drug therapies that aim to improve the health conditions of the patient.
In Mexico, breast cancer is the primary cause of death for women, driving the country to implement NOM 042-SSA2-201, which recommends a mammogram every two years for women between 40 and 69 years old. However, according to the INSP the national mammogram coverage is at 20 percent. This month, Mexico officially joins WHO preventive awareness campaigns but it is unclear if any public institution will implement any additional measures or campaigns to increase awareness of breast cancer in the country.