It’s that time of the year when you see pink. Pink blenders, pink cookbooks, pink pie dishes as well as fund-raising walks are familiar signs that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Increased awareness has helped in the battle against breast cancer. The number of deaths each year from breast cancer has declined about 10 percent since 1996. The number of cases detected has risen, likely due to early detection and better diagnostics. Survival rates are also improving.
Experts recommend you limit alcohol consumption, control your weight, exercise and make healthy food choices with a focus on plant-based foods. Likewise, it’s important to know your family history because if a mother or sister has breast cancer, your risks rise. The American Cancer Society recommends you learn about the benefits of breast self-exams.
Based on guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the American Cancer Society and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota supports these recommendations for mammograms:
- Women 40 years and older should get a mammogram every 1 to 2 years.
- Women who have had breast cancer or other breast problems or who have a family history of breast cancer might need to start getting mammograms before age 40, or they might need to get them more often. Talk to your doctor about when to start and how often you should have a mammogram.
Once detected, breast cancer can now be treated more effectively than ever through therapies such as:
- Radiation therapy. For women who need radiation, newer techniques such as hypofractionated radiation or accelerated partial breast irradiation may be as effective while offering a more convenient way to receive it (compared with daily radiation treatments that take several weeks to complete). Researchers are looking to see if these techniques help prevent cancer recurrences.
- New chemotherapy drugs. Advanced breast cancers are often hard to treat, so researchers are always looking for newer drugs. Scientists have developed drugs that target cancers caused by gene mutations and the trials are promising.
- Targeted therapies. These specifically take advantage of gene changes in cells that cause cancer and can help create anti-cancer bloodstreams, handle hormone therapy treatments, strengthen and reduce the risk of fractures in bones that have been weakened by breast cancer, and shrink tumors (complement to chemotherapy).
Denise Pinkney is an editor/project leader in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.