October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the 31st October so designated, the observance having been established in 1985 by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and drug manufacturer Astra Zeneca. The aim then, as now, was to call attention to the disease, advocate for its prevention and raise money for research to cure it.
The ACS says breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women, skin cancer being the first. About one woman in eight – 12 percent of the U.S. population – will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.
This year, according to the ACS, about 246,000 U.S. women will be diagnosed with the disease and about 40,000 will die from it. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says about 20,000 men will be diagnosed and about 400 will succumb.
While there is no cure for breast cancer, survival rates are good, if the disease is caught in its early stages, so prevention and early diagnosis are the chief weapons in this fight.
The CDC recommends living a reasonably healthy lifestyle by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising at least four hours a week, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, avoiding alcohol (or moderating one’s intake) and avoiding tobacco and other known carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals).
Also, right near the top of the CDC’s prevention list is the recommendation to get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep has been linked to myriad diseases and health disorders. In addition to possibly contributing to various cancers, lack of sleep can lead to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and accidents.
Regular mammograms are crucial to the early detection of breast cancer. The CDC recommends that average-risk women, aged 50 to 74, have a mammogram every two years. Younger women should consult their physicians about the need for screenings. While insurance pays for mammograms, both the CDC and the National Breast Cancer Foundation provide links to free or reduced-cost breast cancer screenings in each state for women (and men) who do not have insurance.