Understanding the Importance of Breast Cancer Awareness

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a global health campaign that runs annually throughout October. During this period, organizations around the world spearhead a plethora of online and offline activities aimed at supporting those afflicted with breast cancer, raising awareness of breast cancer’s impacts and informing the public about current research. The hope is that ready access to information about breast cancer can pave the way for more people to secure treatment.

Though breast cancer awareness efforts escalate throughout October, it’s important for organisations and concerned individuals to keep this momentum going year-round. Read on for a quick guide on the importance of breast cancer awareness and what you can do to make a difference.

Why Breast Cancer Awareness Is So Important

Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the world and the second leading cause of cancer death among women and individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB) worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, 2.3 million breast cancer diagnoses and 685,000 deaths from breast cancer were recorded in 2020 alone. People around the world also lose more disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) to breast cancer than any other cancer.

Survival rates for breast cancer have been improving steadily since the 1980s, particular in high-income countries. This is largely due to the rise of early detection programmes, as these play a pivotal role in eradicating the disease in combination with modern modes of treatment. Indeed, diagnosing and treating the disease early is the best way to ensure a patient’s survival. Thus, the importance of regular breast cancer screenings for people at risk can’t be understated.

Breast cancer awareness efforts typically stress the importance of early screenings and highlight the various lifestyle factors that can raise or lower an individual’s breast cancer risk. Awareness campaigns may also discuss how to check for a breast lump, when to seek medical attention, and other essential knowledge on the disease and its treatments. Easy, ready access to this information can be—and frequently is—life-saving.

Major Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

The greatest risk factor for breast cancer is being assigned female at birth. Only around 0.5 to 1 per cent of breast cancer cases recorded worldwide occur in individuals assigned male at birth. The risk of breast cancer also increases as an individual ages, with most breast cancers occurring in people AFAB aged 55 and older.

A family history of breast cancer can raise an individual’s personal breast cancer risk. Around 15 per cent of people AFAB with breast cancer also have a family member who either has the disease or had it in the past. If someone has a first-degree relative (i.e., a parent, sibling, or child) with a history of breast cancer, their own risk of developing it will almost double.

Certain lifestyle-related factors may also increase a person’s risk of breast cancer. These include the following:

The presence of one or several risk factors doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a particular person will develop breast cancer. Health experts advise that people familiarise themselves with all risk factors, identify those they can control, and make intelligent lifestyle decisions that may reduce risk. For instance, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and avoiding alcohol can all help lower an individual’s chances of developing breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Screening Procedures

It’s typically recommended for all people AFAB to have a risk assessment at age 30 to determine if they should start screening before age 40. People AFAB at an average level of breast cancer risk should begin getting regular screenings from age 40 onwards. People AFAB with previous breast cancer diagnoses, particularly those diagnosed with cancer at age 50 or below, may also want to get supplemental magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests done.

Doctors typically use three tests to detect breast cancer: mammograms, breast MRIs, and breast ultrasounds. Each method carries its own benefits and risks, so patients being screened for breast cancer should talk with their doctor about the best possible method for their particular situation.

What You Can Do to Encourage Breast Cancer Awareness

If you’d like to be an advocate for breast cancer awareness, committing to consistent self-education is the best place to start. Read up on accurate, up-to-date information on the disease, and do your best to stay abreast of new research in the field. Healthcare providers will be your most reliable sources for breast cancer information, so find a doctor you trust and seek them out if you have any concerns or questions.

You also don’t have to wait for Breast Cancer Awareness Month to start candid conversations on the disease with the people around you. If you learn something new, share it with people you care about. Providing informative links from trustworthy sources is a good way to educate your loved ones. Talking openly about breast cancer diagnosis and treatment on social media may encourage those in your network to speak with their healthcare providers about undergoing regular breast examinations.

There’s never a bad time to do your part for breast cancer education and awareness. No matter where in the world you live, spreading essential knowledge about this disease and its treatments will help those around you get the care they need.