Breast Cancer Awareness Month began in 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of Imperial Chemical Industries. Betty Ford helped kick off the week-long event, as she was herself a survivor of breast cancer. She was diagnosed when her husband, Gerald Ford, was president of the United States and brought even more attention to breast cancer.
The early goal of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was to educate women about breast cancer and early detection tests so that they could take charge of their breast health. One of their key goals that they wanted to achieve was to promote mammograms as an important tool to be used in the fight against breast cancer.
The symbol for breast cancer is a pink ribbon. The first nation-wide campaign that utilized the pink ribbon was back in 1992 by Estée Lauder cosmetics. They handed out an impressive 1.5 million of them and ushered in the pink ribbon as the premier visual reminder of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The NFL has become one of the largest supporters of breast cancer awareness month and nearly all players, coaches, and referees don the pink ribbon each October to show their support.
How common is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States, except for skin cancers. It is about 30% (or 1 in 3) of all new female cancers each year.
The American Cancer Society’s estimates for breast cancer in the United States for 2022 are:
- About 287,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
- About 51,400 new cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) will be diagnosed.
- About 43,250 women will die from breast cancer.
Breast cancer mainly occurs in middle-aged and older women. The median age at the time of breast cancer diagnosis is 62. This means half of the women who developed breast cancer are 62 years of age or younger when they are diagnosed. A very small number of women diagnosed with breast cancer are younger than 45.
Lifetime chance of getting breast cancer
Overall, the average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 13%. This means there is a 1 in 8 chance she will develop breast cancer. This also means there is a 7 in 8 chance she will never have the disease. Thus, raising awareness is incredibly important. Regular screenings help in the detection of precancerous and cancerous breast tissue that may be present in otherwise healthy individuals. With proper diagnoses and treatment in the initial stages, breast cancer can be one of the most treatable forms of cancer.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer
The most common signs of breast cancer include:
- Lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
- Swelling or thickening of all or part of the breast
- Dimpling or irritation of breast skin
- Localized, persistent breast pain
- Redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple retraction or discharge (other than breast milk)
- Any change in the size or shape of the breast
It is important to remember that breast lumps are common, particularly in premenopausal women. There are many different kinds of lumps, most of which are not cancerous tumors. The majority of lumps turn out to be benign, such as the soft, fluid-filled lumps that feel tender (especially before the period), the rubbery lumps that move around under the skin and are usually painless, or the fibrocystic changes leading to painful, lumpy breasts. Benign lumps develop from fatty tissue deposits or breastfeeding when sacs filled with milk form cysts. One can even get a lump as a result of an injury, such as when your breast gets bruised or after breast surgery. Every woman should learn about these signs and do monthly breast self-exams along with regular mammograms, which, along with knowledge of risk factors of breast cancer, can help women keep this disease at bay.
Breast cancer screening
Breast cancer screening guidelines are set forth by the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging. They include a risk assessment for the woman at age 30 to see if screening earlier than age 40 is needed. Women previously diagnosed with breast cancer might also benefit from supplemental screening with magnetic resonance imaging, especially if their cancer was diagnosed at or before the age of 50.
Freeman/Lozier Library offers the following resources on breast cancer awareness:
The Complete Breast Book RC280 .B8 E5 1996
Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book RG491 .L68 2010 Credo Reference Online
Preventing Breast Cancer: The Story of a Major, Proven, Preventable Cause of This Disease RC280 .B8 G64 1996