What is Pink October all about?
by Mr Yellow
The month of October makes a pink debut year after year. From pink ribbons and shirts, pink billboards and banners, they all represent one fundamental cause - promoting breast cancer awareness, educating people on risk factors and lifestyle changes, encouraging regular breast screening, and raising funds for breast cancer research as part of the Pink October initiative.
Why is Pink October an important calendar event?
Breast cancer awareness is the first step towards preventing this disease from having irreversible consequences on one's life. Year after year, several companies from different industries and numerous NGOs team up to support this educational and fundraising campaign. Through a diversity of media channels, they endeavour to transmit the importance of early breast cancer detection, how best to live with breast cancer, the significance of self-tests and breast screening, raising awareness on the symptoms of breast cancer and the diversity of treatments available, and the value of prioritising your health and the lifestyle you adopt.
Some Facts on Breast Cancer
According to the World Cancer Research Fund, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide, with half a million women dying of this disease per year. More than 300 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in Malta, implicating the diagnosis of one new case of breast cancer per day.
Early detection is quintessential as 90% of breast cancers in their early stage are curable. According to statistics provided by the local Health Department, 4 out of 5 treated women live for at least 5 years in Malta, putting us as the country with the highest survival rate in Europe. Although men may also be affected by breast cancer, women aged between 50 and 69 are found to be mostly affected.
Which Breast Cancer Risk Factors should you be aware of?
What causes breast cancer is yet to be discovered. How does a cell's DNA get damaged? Causes may be environmental, hormonal, related to your lifestyle, or a combination of all factors.
Known risk factors are several. So who is most likely to get breast cancer?
- Gender: Women are more susceptible than men
- Age: Women over 50
- Family history: People with family members diagnosed with breast cancer
- Personal health: Women who underwent early menstruation before 12 or late menopause after 55
- Child-bearing: Women who bear children after the age of 30 or who've had no children
- Physical Activity: Women who are inactive
- Weight: Overweight and obese women are at a higher risk
- Previous diagnosis: Women who experienced cancer in one breast are more likely to have breast cancer diagnosed in the other breast
- Radiation exposure: Women exposed to chest radiation at a young age
Other possible risk factors include alcohol, smoking, birth control pills, and a diet lacking fruits and vegetables.
Breast cancer symptoms: What are the signs of breast cancer you should be looking out for?
Although one of the most prevailing symptoms, lumps in breasts are just one symptom of breast cancer. What else do you need to look out for, and how often? Carrying out a self-examination goes a long way in ensuring early detection. Execute the following routine once a month for a comprehensive self-test:
- In the shower: Touch around your breast, nipple and underarm area in a circular motion for unusual sensations . These may include skin tenderness, itching, breast pain, changes in skin texture, such as scaling and flaking, and lumps in breasts.
- In front of a mirror: Observe any visual changes in size and shape, such as any visible shrinkage, swelling or reddening in both your breast and armpit areas. Although one breast is not an exact replica of its counterpart, look for any unusual changes with arms at your sides, overhead and on your hips.
- Lying down: Examine your breasts and underarm areas in circular motion while you're lying down.
Observing this brief routine on a monthly basis will help you get to know your body, which will, in turn, help you become aware of any abnormalities quicker. Become the expert of your own body and you'll be able to communicate more knowingly with your GP.
Is it breast cancer or not?
Do keep in mind that the above-mentioned symptoms should not be instantaneously associated with breast cancer. Breast pain may be related to pregnancy, menstruation, puberty or menopause; there's a higher probability a lump in your breast is just a harmless cyst. In this case a simple ultrasound can pinpoint the nature of the lump swiftly, so don't panic! If you find anything out of the ordinary, visit a general practitioner immediately and he may refer you for a breast screening test.
Why is Breast Screening important?
Breast screening is crucial as it can identify cancerous cells before symptoms are visible to the naked eye, and before they spread through blood or lymph systems. Who should have a routine breast screening? Women over 50 are most susceptible to the disease, so this is another essential procedure they need to undergo once a year, together with the monthly self-test. However, if you have family members diagnosed at a young age, speak to your GP and he will guide you on the type of tests you should be doing, and their frequency, even if you notice no symptoms.
The Malta Breast Screening Programme
As part of a national initiative, the local Health Department is offering free breast screening to all Maltese female residents aged between 50 and 67 years. From a screening every 3 years, this project has been extended to a frequency of 2 years, in an endeavour to increase the chances of early detection.
What does a Breast Screening test consist of?
The most efficient screening mechanism is a mammogram, which is simply an X-ray of your breasts, aimed to detect changes in tissues and reveal invisible lumps, possibly reflecting the presence of cancerous cells. Will it hurt? You'll only feel a little discomfort for a few seconds while your breast is being compressed. However, the 30-minute screening test may just change your life, and early detection will lower the chances of needing a mastectomy or chemotherapy.
On the day of the mammogram, make sure you don't put on any deodorant or creams on your breast area, wear a skirt or trousers, take previous mammogram results with you, and make sure you have your ID card with you.
Did the mammogram reveal any abnormality?
If all is clear, results are sent by post within 3 weeks. Supposing that images are unclear or an abnormality is detected, you'll be called for an appointment. Keep in mind that this doesn't mean you have breast cancer. An ultrasound or biopsy is performed to investigate further, and if diagnosed with breast cancer, they'll refer you to a breast clinic. Specialists will determine which treatment would be most suitable, depending on which stage of breast cancer you're at and the type of breast cancer. Therapy may range from chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery or hormone therapy.
How can you reduce risks of breast cancer?
Breast cancer cannot be prevented, but you can be proactive and lower risks by adopting the following lifestyle changes:
- Maintain a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables
- Reduce excess weight
- Be physically active: 30 minutes of daily exercise can do miracles
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Cut down on smoking
- Don't expose your chest to unnecessary radiation
- Carry out a monthly self-test
- Speak to your doctor about the best time to start breast screening
Living with Breast Cancer
Diagnosed with breast cancer? Know that you're not alone! Open up to family and friends, talk to breast cancer survivors and seek any support you may need from one of the local NGOs. Such NGOs include The Action for Breast Cancer Foundation and Europa Donna Malta. Whether you're in the treatment stage, a survivor, or a family member of a diagnosed person, these NGOs can be your helping hands.
Pink it Up
October is the time to flaunt your pink ribbons and pink shirts and help out this most quintessential cause. Take part in the events and activities hosted by Pink October, The Marigold Foundation and the Action for Breast Cancer Foundation throughout this month to support the breast cancer awareness and fundraising campaigns. Such events include The Esplora Night Walk, The Pinko Pink Ball and Walk & Feel Good. So team up with your friends or organise a corporate event to help boost awareness and raise funds, to better understand the nature of this disease and improve the quality of life.
Keep on discovering local with Yellow.