October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Should you or a loved one be screened?

Did you know breast cancer is now the most common form of cancer?


As of December 2020, breast cancer surpassed lung cancer as the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the world, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, the CDC has reported cancer is the second leading cause of death.  Breast Cancer accounts for 33% of cancer diagnoses for women. It is the most common cancer in women, and it is the second leading cause of cancer related death behind lung cancer.

Who is affected?

Older women are most affected, with 80% of diagnoses being women over 50.

While non-Hispanic White women have the highest rate of new cases, Black women have the highest rates of death. The five-year survival of breast cancer is 91% for White women but only 82% for Black women. Addressing these disparities has been a priority of many government and healthcare leaders. One key measure has been to provide funding to low-income and underinsured women in all U.S. states, territories and tribes.

Men aren’t off the hook

About 0.5-1% of breast cancer cases are men, usually between the ages of 60-70.

Diseases such as cirrhosis and Klinefelter syndrome can increase estrogen levels, which can lead to breast cancer; other risk factors include family history and radiation exposure.

How do you know if you might have breast cancer?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests a mammogram every 2 years for women aged 50-74; those 40-49 should discuss with their health provider when to start screening.

Screenings may consist of:

  • Health Provider’s exam
  • Mammogram (remember to wear no deodorant, lotion or perfume – they can skew the results)
  • Ultrasound, if a closer look is needed
  • MRI for an even more detailed scan
  • Biopsy of tissue, if needed

Men and women can also perform an easy self-check in the shower with some suds:

Just raise one arm above your head and use your other hand to check the breast; feel around for any painless lumps or thickening, including the armpit. You can also look for puckering or dimples, nipple changes, or red scaly skin in the mirror.

Repeat monthly after periods or on a specific date and you’ll notice any changes right away. Most lumps – up to 90% – aren’t breast cancer, but knowing your body is key.

Treatment options

Treatment options include:

  • Surgery to remove all (mastectomy) or part (lumpectomy) of the breast
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Immunotherapy

Surgery can affect self-image. Prosthetic brassieres assist with post-mastectomy form. Cosmetic or reconstructive surgery can often be performed at the same time as mastectomy, so be sure to discuss your options ahead of time.

Can it be prevented?

While some breast cancer is genetic (you may have heard of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 changes), most women who develop breast cancer have no known family history of the disease. For high-risk individuals the use of hormonal blocking medication will reduce cancer development by about half.

Some lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk up to 30%:

  • Regular exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing or avoiding alcohol
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Breastfeeding
  • Avoiding prolonged hormone use
  • Limiting radiation exposure

Also see our Stress Awareness Month blog for tips on reducing stress.

The Good News: Early detection for prevention

Overall death rates are on the decline and nearly 99% of women diagnosed  with early stage cancer live 5 years or more, compared to 27% of women with late diagnoses where the cancer has spread, according to the CDC.

And as Judith Ford, MD – one of Intermountain Health’s Medical Directors – notes: “Many people put off routine health screenings in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic; this was very true with mammograms. With vaccines being offered and universal masking indoors, getting a mammogram is safe and easy. Our radiology partner, Desert Radiology, offers a clean and private experience that gives peace of mind. Breast Cancer is very curable if detected and treated early. At Intermountain Nevada we are improving the care of women with abnormal mammograms with the aim to get rid of the red-tape and get women the care they need.”

So, if you’ve been putting it off due to the pandemic, now’s the time to get screened! Call your provider and schedule an appointment today.

*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician or qualified healthcare professional.

Part of being well is being heard.