October is a festive time associated with autumn-colored hues of red, yellow, orange, brown, or even the eerie glow of purple and black for Halloween. But there’s another color that makes a showing this time of year — pink. You’ll see it on T-shirts, socks, hats, and little pink ribbons decorating everything from social media profiles to cupcake sprinkles.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and pink is the signature color. When you see pink, think 1 in 8. That’s how many women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
HIGH RISK OR NOT?
When it comes to breast cancer, there are some things you can control and others you can't. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the following breast cancer risk factors over which you have zero influence:
• Getting older
• Genetic mutations
• Reproductive/menstrual history
• Having dense breasts
• Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases
• Family history of breast cancer
• Previous treatments using radiation therapy
• Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol
You certainly can’t avoid getting older or having dense breasts, and when you begin menstruating or menopause are both dictated by your body. There are, however, some factors over which you have complete control. The CDC lists these as:
• Not being physically active
• Being overweight after menopause
• Taking hormones during menopause
• Taking certain contraceptives with hormones
• Reproductive history (including, having your first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy)
• Drinking alcohol
BE AWARE, BE HEALTHY
As you read these over, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. For starters, risk is about creating a situation that exposes you to potential harm and doesn't guarantee that harm will come. Don’t be fooled into thinking that no risk factors mean no concerns. Some women get breast cancer with very few factors and others who have many risk factors will never suffer from the disease. So how do you make sense of it? Regardless of risk, there are some things every woman can and should do to reduce the likelihood of getting breast cancer.
TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR
Share your health history with your physician so he or she can give you sound medical advice, such as how often you should get a mammogram. Current medical research advises you to have a mammogram every few years starting at age 40. Depending on your risk factors, your physician may want you to begin getting a mammogram sooner.
CHANGE WHAT YOU CAN
The National Institutes of Health points out that genetic mutations can have large or small effects on the likelihood of developing a particular disease. Specifically, NIH uses BRCA1 or BRCA2 as an example of a mutation that greatly increases a person’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Yet, variations in other genes (e.g., BARD1 and BRIP1) increase the risk but at a much lower level. If you have a genetic predisposition, the risk of getting breast cancer may be multifactorial, but improved lifestyle and environmental factors may be able to reduce your risk. Talk to your doctor about it.
FIFTY IS NOT THE MAGIC NUMBER
Breast cancer is most common in women 50 and older, but 11 percent of new breast cancer diagnoses in the United States are found in women younger than age 45, according to the CDC. Know your risk factors and talk to your physician.
FOCUS ON A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
There are many reasons to live a healthier lifestyle and reducing your risk of breast cancer is just one. The National Breast Cancer Foundation offers five easy-to-follow behaviors to improve your overall wellness. These are:
1. Maintain a healthy weight
2. Stay physically active
3. Eat fruits and vegetables
4. Don’t smoke
5. Limit alcohol consumption
The foundation will even send you weekly health tips to your email inbox. Go to www.nationalbreastcancer.org/healthy-habits to sign up.
When it comes to October, enjoy the fall colors while being mindful of pink. Breast cancer awareness can help you and your loved ones enjoy the autumn fun for many years to come, and that is the prettiest color of all.