Breast cancer awareness

Did you know that one in nine Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetimes?

This is a staggeringly high number. Breast cancer continues to be the most common cancer among Canadian women.

According to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, last year it was estimated that 5,300 women and 50 men would die from breast cancer in Canada.

On average, 100 Canadian women will die of breast cancer every week. This has remained unchanged since 2009 and female breast cancer incidence rates appear to be fairly consistent across Canada.

October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and communities have been out helping to raise funds for research. Locally, the CIBC Run for the Cure raised more than $240,000 in Red Deer alone and more than $30 million was raised nation-wide.

In Red Deer, more than 800 people took part in the event. Also helping to bolster awareness is the ubiquitous presence of pink – the colour that has been selected to represent breast cancer research.

Experts emphasize the importance of screening and early detection. Women in their 40s are encouraged to talk with their doctors about breast cancer along with the benefits and risks of mammography.

Women ages 50 to 69 should have a mammogram every two years, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. Those who are 70 or older should discuss with their doctors how often they should be screened.

Risk factors include a family history of breast cancer, an above-average exposure to the hormone estrogen or having never given birth or having given birth for the first time after age 30.

Part of the reason for Breast Cancer Awareness Month is of course to start-up conversations about the issue. Chances are we all have been touched by cancer in some way – whether directly or by the experience of a friend or loved one.

Meanwhile, there is cause to be optimistic. Since 1986, the breast cancer death rate has fallen by more than 30% and is currently the lowest it has been since 1950.

The significant improvement in survival rates for women with breast cancer since the mid-1980s is likely a result of improvements in screening and advances in treatment.

And at present, the five-year relative survival rate for female breast cancer in Canada is 87% (84% for men) which means that women diagnosed with breast cancer have an 87% likelihood of living for five years after their diagnosis.

There are so many worthy causes these days to support, but this one certainly stands out because of how wide-spread it is. With more conversation and awareness, hopefully more women will be apt to take the time for screening and ultimately save their lives.