It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a worldwide campaign helping to spread awareness, education and promote further research into the most common form of cancer in both the UK and US. In these two countries combined, there are over 300,000 diagnoses every single year, so chances are you've been affected by breast cancer at some point, either directly or through someone you know. We’ve written about the signs, symptoms and cause of breast cancer before, so today we’re giving you some stats and facts surrounding breast cancer, to help spread awareness of just how far we've come, and how far we have to go.
40 years ago, only half of the people diagnosed with breast cancer would survive 5 years. Today, that figure is over 80% - around 5 out of every 6 people.
One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding breast cancer is the idea that it only affects women. True, it is much more common in women and only 1% of cases are men, but the fact still stands that men should be looking out for symptoms as well.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about them, but it may help you pluck up the courage to get one seen to. Getting a lump checked is relatively easy, and even if a lump isn't cancerous, it can put you at a larger risk of developing breast cancer. If you see a lump, get it checked, but the chances are it will actually be benign, at which point your doctor will discuss risks and checkups with you.
Although many breast cancers form a lump or tumour within the breast, there are many other signs that you may have breast cancer, and indeed, if you wait until you can feel a lump, the cancer may have developed further and be harder to treat. Signs such as inverted nipples, changes in the colour and shape of the breasts or components of the breasts can all indicate an issue, so know what you’re checking for and check regularly.
Age increases the risk of breast cancer in women. We’re not entirely sure why this is, but we think it is partly to do with the menopause and hormonal changes that take place, as well as the natural ageing process. Regular screenings are encouraged for women over 50 to catch cases early.
It is true that if a close family member has had breast cancer, you may be at a higher risk of developing the disease. Most of the time, however, there is no family history of breast cancer when a woman is diagnosed. If members of your family have had breast cancer, its worth looking into whether that puts you at a higher risk by asking your doctor, but if no one in your family has had it, don't assume that puts you in a safe place.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is quite alarming to hear. Factors include increased screening, better awareness so people are noticing changes in their own bodies, and more understanding of how the disease works and presents itself. More diagnosis and earlier diagnosis means we’re catching it early, but it also means we need more treatments available to tackle all these cases.
Despite recent campaigns to help encourage and educate on checking for the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, a recent survey done by Breast Cancer Care found that a third don’t regularly check their breasts and 20% don’t actually know what they’re looking for. If you are unsure how best to check, read our blogpost on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.
Otherwise known as metastatic or stage IV breast cancer, this is when cancer that originated in the breast has spread to other parts of the body, usually through the blood stream or lymphatic system. Almost all deaths from breast cancer occur due to secondary breast cancer, and the statistics for survival decrease considerably at this stage. If caught early on, survival rates can be as high as 90%. Once the cancer has spread, however, this is reduced to between 20-30%.
53% of people have subsequent issues with anxiety, and 31% with depression. The effects of going through and surviving breast cancer can be profound for those who had the disease and their loved ones, so more is being done to help, with charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support championing ongoing treatments for those affected by breast cancer and all types of cancer.
Many of the organizations involved in BCAM are saying that breast cancer is at a critical juncture, because successful treatment is increasing but so are the amount of diagnoses, due to better awareness and more screenings. What’s more, for those who overcome breast cancer, their lives and the lives of their loved ones are altered forever, and support is needed afterwards to help them. More resources, research and treatments are needed to meet demand and stop women and men dying from breast cancer, and care for those affected by it. You can help by spreading awareness of the signs of breast cancer to look out for, but you can also support charities such as Breast Cancer Now and Breast Cancer Care, as they try to promote other elements of the campaign. Research into new treatments, getting existing treatments approved, and setting up care centers are just a few of the focus areas, and you can find out more at either of these websites.
If you are concerned about breast cancer or any symptoms you are experiencing, place them all into the Isabel Symptom Checker and discuss the results with your doctor.