Opinion: Fighting breast cancer
More than 25 years ago, the month of October was designated as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month to remind women throughout our country to take charge of their health. Since the first awareness campaign was launched, significant progress has been made in the fight against breast cancer.
Each of us likely knows a brave breast cancer survivor — in the United States today there are more than 2.5 million survivors. Thanks to advances in research and screening, more women are detecting this cancer early and improving their chances of beating this disease.
However, there is still a long road ahead and much work to be done. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American women. Every two minutes, a woman in our country is diagnosed with breast cancer, and one woman dies from the disease every 13 minutes. In Kansas alone, nearly 2,000 women will be diagnosed this year, and it is estimated that more than 300 will not survive.
But women are not the only ones affected by breast cancer. This year, 2,140 men will be diagnosed across our country, and 450 men will not survive. It is important to remember that while men and women are both at risk, some women are at a higher risk. Age itself is a risk factor for breast cancer: about 77 percent of those diagnosed are older than the age of 50. Women who have a family history of breast cancer, lead a sedentary lifestyle, consume 2-3 alcoholic drinks per day, or are overweight also are at a higher risk.
Regular screening is the best way to lower the risk of this disease, because breast cancer is more treatable when detected early. In fact, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent when women are diagnosed in the early stage of breast cancer. The combination of monthly self-exams, yearly clinical exams and regular mammograms beginning at age 40 is the best way to detect this disease in its earliest and most treatable stages.
While advances in technology and research have contributed to treatment breakthroughs and promising survival rates, there are a number of additional ways women and men can lower their risk factors. One of the best steps you can take is to maintain a healthy weight by staying active. The National Cancer Institute states that exercising four or more hours a week helps lower the risk of breast cancer. Eating a healthy, low fat diet is also important. A healthy diet includes consuming five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, including whole grains, and limiting processed foods.
This October, I encourage you to talk with your wife, mom and other loved ones about the importance of getting annual check-ups and taking steps to lower the chances of getting this disease. I also encourage you to take charge of your own health, and talk with your doctor about risk factors and preventative health steps you can take to reduce your own risk.
To learn more about breast cancer prevention and screening, please visit the National Cancer Institute’s website at cancer.gov. By educating more Americans about this disease, together, we will help save lives.