There exists an epidemic in America that no one likes to talk about. It affects everyone in some way or another, but is rarely a topic brought up at the dinner table. Girls are instructed to check their breasts for lumps and wear lots of sunscreen, but are told little else regarding the subject. Now, it is time to bring this issue to the forefront. It is time to inform ourselves on the plague that touches so many, and to achieve a better understanding of the pervasive disease that is breast cancer.
In the U.S. alone, breast cancer affects nearly 250,000 women per year—meaning roughly 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. Because it is so common, it is imperative that we fully understand the risks, diagnoses and treatments associated with it. Just as well, it is important to stay up to date on current developments in the medical field regarding cancer as technology rapidly continues to improve. Even within the last decade, our understanding and treatment of cancer has changed significantly.
Previously, it was common to respond to breast cancer in an immediate and all-intensive fashion. This meant attacking it from all angles through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Not only are these treatments highly expensive, but they are also detrimental to a woman’s health in terms of mental and physical side effects. But the good news is, these aggressive treatments may become less common as researchers gain a deeper understanding about the differences between kinds of breast cancers. Most importantly, doctors are learning through 3D mammography and genetic tumor tests that not all breast lesions have the ability to spread, such as Stage 0 breast cancer and ductal carcinoma in situ.
As technologies continue to improve, doctors will be able to employ a more personalized approach in diagnosing and treating breast cancer. One revolutionary aspect of this new approach includes a re-evaluation of when and how mammograms should be implemented. Previously, it’s been recommended that all women receive mammograms once they reach age 40. But now, public health professionals recommend increasing this age to 50. In order to clarify this, breast cancer experts are currently conducting studies which will clear up the correct age and approach for conducting mammograms.
Another groundbreaking aspect of this personalized approach is the recommendation that women with Stage 0 cancers be treated by—quite surprisingly—doing nothing at all. In these cases, it is now being recommended that doctors utilize active surveillance. In other words, women will receive regular check-ups to monitor the cancer, but no invasive measures will be taken. This “less is more” approach allows women to continue living their normal day-to-day lives without facing the difficult decisions surrounding chemotherapy and radiation.
But before the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, it is most important to understand the risk factors linked to the disease. It is commonly held that breast cancer is primarily caused by inherited genes. But in fact, 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society maintains that 75% to 80% of breast cancers are caused by lifestyle choices, not inherited genes. This means that eating a healthy diet, exercising often and limiting smoking and drinking are all effective ways to reduce your risk.
Along with lifestyle choices, current research is uncovering that exposure to various chemicals and toxins are also linked to cancer. Common examples include BPA (found in plastics), household cleaners, and many kinds of cosmetics. The cosmetics industry uses thousands of synthetic chemicals in its products, in everything from lipstick to shaving cream. A few common chemicals that can be found in these products include:
1.) Phthalates – often found in nail polish and synthetic fragrances.
2.) Parabens – often used as preservatives in lotions, ointments and deodorants.
3.) Lead – found as a contaminant in sunscreens, foundation, lipstick and many other cosmetic products.
The best way to avoid these in your daily life is to be pro-active—research products, read labels, and educate yourself on companies who commonly use these toxins in their products.
In a world of constantly changing products, chemicals and technology, it is now more important than ever to stay up to date on health topics. Breast cancer in particular is a field where new advancements are allowing doctors to change their perspective and approach regarding treatment of patients. These changes may be frightening to some, but if nothing else they serve as a basis of optimism for the developments to come. As technology continues to change, it is our only hope that we will beat breast cancer once and for all in the near future.
Sources: Alice Park “New Frontiers in Breast Cancer” (2016)
BreastCancer.org “U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics” (2016)
BreastCancerFund.org “Chemicals in Cosmetics”