In 2021, about 282,000 people were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and another 49,000 were diagnosed with noninvasive DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). That means roughly 900 people, primarily women, were diagnosed with breast cancer every single day in the United States.
Every October, the world becomes laser-focused on the sustained impact of breast cancer and the millions of lives affected by its existence and persistence. The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an essential tool to promote the education, resources, and plans necessary to combat the number one cancer diagnosis and the second leading cause of cancer death, following lung cancer, among women in the United States.
But for many of us – as patients, family members, friends, intimate partners, health care professionals, and advocates – the fight to end this epidemic is a year-round effort.
Know Your Breast Cancer Risk
No matter how you identify, if you have breasts, you have a risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in your lifetime.
- Female – Lifetime risk is 13%, meaning a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer.
- Male – Lifetime risk is 0.1%, or approximately 1 in 833. About 1 in every 100 occurrences of breast cancers cases is found in a man.
- Transgender – Increased rate of breast cancer in trans women (male gender assigned at birth, female gender identity) compared to cisgender men, particularly during a relatively short duration of hormone treatment.
Additional risks for developing breast cancer include:
- Advancing age
- Genetics (including BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes)
- Family history of cancers
- Overweight or obesity
- Breast density
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol use
- Null parity (never having given birth)
Breast Cancer FAQs
When should I begin performing breast self-exams?
Breast self-examinations should be performed every month to look and feel for changes starting at around 20 years old. Regular breast self-exams help you support breast health and can detect cancer earlier, when it’s easier to treat and less likely to be fatal. While most lumps and abnormalities aren’t cancerous, you should still report any changes to your doctor.
Check out this guide on how to perform breast self-examinations.
When should I begin getting a screening mammogram?
Generally, you should talk to your healthcare provider at age 40 about when to start getting mammograms. However, it may vary if you have a personal or family history of benign, abnormal, or malignant breast disease. Consult with your doctor to figure out the best treatment plan.
Do all patients diagnosed with breast cancer require a mastectomy? Chemotherapy? Radiation? Hormone therapy?
The short answer is no. The decision on whether to remove the entire breast is based upon the size, the location, the number/type of tumors, the breast size, the patient’s medical history, the need for radiation therapy, and the patient’s desires. This also applies to any other treatment for breast cancer.
Do I need a mammogram following a mastectomy?
If you have any remaining breast tissue, then yes, you will continue to need breast cancer screenings. These may include physical exams, ultrasounds, mammography, and/or MRI surveillance.
Do I need to see an oncologist when diagnosed with breast cancer?
Oncologists are doctors who specialize in the care and management of patients diagnosed with cancer. It’s recommended that all patients with a diagnosis of breast cancer have an evaluation by a medical oncologist. There are a few different types of oncologists:
The medical oncologist diagnoses and treats the patient with a diagnosis of cancer, using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, immunotherapy, and other gene-targeted therapies.
The radiation oncologist determines the type and dosage of radiation needed to treat patients diagnosed with a variety of cancers.
The surgical oncologist treats the patient with a diagnosis of cancer by performing biopsies (removing all or part of a suspicious or cancerous lesion) and/or removing the entire tumor, along with a certain amount of normal tissue surrounding the mass, to help cure the disease.
What are the options for breast reconstruction?
The Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 establishes that a patient’s insurance company must provide coverage for reconstruction of the breast with the cancer diagnosis as well as the opposite side in order to create/maintain breast symmetry.
There is no one reconstruction option for people who have mastectomies. Some patients opt for immediate reconstruction, and others decide farther down the line – weeks, months, even years later – to undergo reconstructive surgery.
- Autologous breast reconstruction uses your own tissues (skin, fat, muscle, and/or blood vessels) to reconstruct the breast following a mastectomy.
- Prosthetic breast reconstruction uses tissue expanders (temporary inflatable implants that are enlarged over time to preserve the beast pocket) and permanent implants – either saline or silicone.
- Oncoplastic procedures utilize the combined surgical skills of both a surgical oncologist (general surgeon), to remove the diseased breast tissue, and a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, to rearrange the breast tissue (usually a breast lift or reduction) in order to restore the prior aesthetics of the breast or address other functional issues, such as sagging, large breast size, chronic neck and back pain, or chronic rashes and infections.
What resources are available if I’m diagnosed with breast cancer?
Financial assistance includes coverage for copays, medical equipment, insurance premiums, prescription drugs, and more. Free and discounted breast exams are also available.
The Brem Foundation began partnering with the ride-share platform Lyft, in 2019, to supply transportation to breast care for those in need.
Patients with disabilities are less likely to have received a mammogram in the past two years compared to those without disabilities. Early detection is key for managing breast cancer, and the Centers for Disease Control offers resources to help those with disabilities prepare for, find, and access mammogram services.
The Bottom Line
Although the information listed above may seem overwhelming or insurmountable, you’re not alone; great preventive and treatment tools are at your disposal. Make sure you use them!
Don’t stop learning, sharing, and acting when breast cancer awareness month ends. This is a year-round action plan, so follow it daily – just as you would monitor your overall health and wellness!