As L.M. Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers”. October breathes fresh crisp air as the season shifts, bold colors on trees all around, and the promise of holiday cheer just around the corner. Not only is October a beautiful and crisp month full of fall wonders, and colors of golds and reds bursting from the tree tops, but it is also the month of all things PINK!
I am sure most of you are aware of this month of Breast Cancer Awareness. Since 1985, October has been National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The campaign begins on October 1st of each year and concludes on Oct. 31. The aim of this internationally recognized month is to educate and promote the importance of mammography and early screening tests for breast cancer.
Each year various events, walks/runs, and other fundraising campaigns are held to raise awareness and money for further research. The iconic pink ribbon can be seen all around the world during the month of October. We’ve even seen the NFL sport pink attire on and off the field to help support the cause.
It can be easy to get lost in the sea of pink this month so I want to educate and remind you of some of the key facts regarding breast cancer and how you can be a proactive health advocate for yourself and the women around you.
Did you know that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime? That is a high statistic and reminds me that I am not invincible, therefore, I must do my best to educate myself and be proactive in taking care of my body and health. Let’s talk about some of the other key components in proactively educating ourselves about breast cancer.
First- what are the risk factors for developing breast cancer? A risk factor is something that can increase your chance of developing a disease. Some risk factors can be avoided through lifestyle modifications (i.e. diet, exercise, alcohol consumption) but other risk factors such as gender, age, family history, and race cannot be avoided or controlled. We do not know what causes breast cancer. And risk factors are simply that- factors that increase your risk but that does not necessarily mean you will or will not develop breast cancer. What we do know is that breast cancer is always caused by damage to cell DNA but what causes that damage is often times unknown or could be a combination of factors, controlled and/or uncontrolled.
- Gender: While breast cancer can occur in men, it is 100 times more likely to occur in women. This is due in part to women’s breast tissue being more exposed to estrogen and other hormones that can promote abnormal cell growth.
- Age: Approximately 85% of breast cancer cases occur in women who are 50 years and older. Cases in women less than age 40 only account for about 5% of breast cancer cases.
- Race: While white women are more likely than African American women to develop breast cancer, African American women who are diagnosed are more likely to die of the disease than white women. Asian, Hispanic, and Native American women tend to be at a lower risk of developing and dying from breast cancer.
- Previous Breast Cancer & Other Cancers: Those who have previously had breast cancer in one breast are 3-4 times more likely (at risk) of developing a new cancer in the other breast or a different part of the same breast. Also, women who have been diagnosed with ovarian, colon, or endometrium cancer are more likely to develop breast cancer than women without one of those cancers.
- Breast Density: Women who have more dense breast tissue as seen on a mammogram are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who have fattier breast tissue.
- Some Benign Breast Conditions: Some benign breast conditions such as atypical hyperplasia, an abnormal overgrowth of cells in the lobules and ducts can be a risk factor for breast cancer. Benign conditions such as fibrocystic disease, mastitis, fat necrosis, and benign tumors do not appear to increase risk because they do not cause atypical cell overgrowth (hyperplasia).
- Estrogen Exposure: The longer a woman is exposed to estrogen, the greater her risk for developing breast cancer. Factors that impact estrogen exposure over a woman’s lifetime include the number of pregnancies she has had along with the age she was when pregnant, the age of her first menstrual cycle, the use of oral contraceptives, the use of postmenopausal hormone therapy with estrogen plus a progestin. Here at STAT Wellness we offer a comprehensive assessment of estrogen metabolites through a dried urine sample, which evaluates how your body is breaking down estrogen. Some estrogen metabolites are more protective while others are more carcinogenic. Come and visit us to find out more information about getting your own testing.
Secondly, knowing your family history is so important. According to Harvard Health, women who have two or more first degree relatives (mother, daughter, sister) with either breast or ovarian cancer, are at a greater than 50% risk of developing breast cancer. This is in part due to inherited gene mutations. The most common gene mutations that account for the highest risk for developing breast cancer are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. If you know of a family member who had/has breast cancer, have a conversation with them and ask if they have had genetic testing done. If a close relative does in fact carry one of these genes, consider genetic testing for yourself. If you do have one of the BRCA genes, early monitoring and screening will become your best friend to help mitigate your risk of a potential diagnosis. I, Meghan, have personal experience with these genes and genetic testing and you can find some of my story at the end of this post.
Lastly, our lifestyle management is crucial in the prevention and early detection of not only breast cancer but a multitude of cancers and other preventable diseases. Being overweight and obese is a risk factor for breast cancer and many diseases and this is one risk factor that we can do our best to manage through nutrition and movement. The foods we fuel our bodies with are also critical in possibly preventing breast cancer. There is no concrete evidence on the impact of certain foods but I’d rather eat healthy, whole foods that could possibly prevent disease versus not eating well and potentially getting sick. Moving our bodies and eating well will only benefit you and decrease the risk of disease. If you are ready to move your body and reclaim your health, join our fitness classes and book a medical visit with our founder, Kristin Oja, DNP, FNP-C, IFMCP. We also offer health coaching services to help you navigate lifestyle changes. Find out more about our holistic health services here.
Here at STAT Wellness, we believe in functional medicine and getting to the root cause of health issues and preventing disease. In addition to the conventional screening tests for breast cancer, we also offer comprehensive testing including nutrient, genetic, inflammation, and thorough estrogen metabolite testing. Book your lab draw and health coaching consultation here.
I want to finish this post with a personal story. This month is especially important to me because breast cancer has been a very real concern for my own mother and myself. My mom is a Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer survivor. In 2010 after she was in remission from her ovarian cancer, we found out that she carries the BRCA1 gene, which predisposes her to various cancers, including breast. My brave mother opted to undergo a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of a potential future breast cancer diagnosis.
As I sat in the exam room with my mom during her genetic counseling, I knew that this gene could someday impact me as well. A quick recall of my college biology class made me realize that if my mom carried this gene, there was a 50% chance that I had it as well. I didn’t know exactly what that meant for me in the moment and I decided I’d wait until I was older to have the testing done.
A few years ago I was under the care of a reproductive endocrinologist at UCLA for infertility due to PCOS. My doctor highly encouraged me to go ahead and have the genetic testing done sooner rather than later. I told her I wanted to wait until I was done having children, but she reminded me that knowledge is power and if I did in fact have the gene, routine screening and early detection would be my best bet at catching any diagnosis early. I knew she was right but there was still fear living inside of me.
I decided to have the testing done given that our insurance would cover it because of my immediate link with my mom. Long story short, we found out that I too carry the BRCA 1 gene. I was overwhelmed and disappointed when I got that phone call but I was quickly reminded that just because I carry the gene, that does not mean I had a diagnosis or that I ever will.
Fast forward a few months. I had a routine screening done at UCLA to determine a baseline image of my breasts. I was not expecting to receive a call a day later saying that I had to come back in for further testing and a biopsy because a lump was found. I felt like my fears were coming to fruition. How could this be….I’m only 27 I thought to myself.
Again- to make a long story short, I underwent several ultrasounds and eventually a biopsy. During this breast cancer scare, we also found out I was pregnant, which made the entire ordeal even more unnerving and scary. Thankfully, my biopsy was benign. The doctors are still not sure exactly what the lump is but I remain monitored a few times a year.
This experience reiterated to me the importance of being my own health advocate, being proactive with my health and screenings, and knowing my body and taking care of it, even from the young age of 28. I hope this encourages you to talk with the women in your family about their health and experiences, to listen closely to your body, and to daily make healthy lifestyle choices.
Let us not be women driven by fear of a diagnosis but rather women empowered by the knowledge around us and let’s leverage that knowledge and awareness to continue to help fight for a cure. The good news is that breast cancer death rates have been declining since 1990 due to better screening, early detection, increased awareness, and improved treatment options.
Come learn more about epigenetics and nutrigenomics at our “Genes are NOT Your Destiny” talk led by our Founder, Kristin Oja, DNP, FNP-C, IFMCP. You can sign up for the workshop here.
Author: Meghan Meredith
Meghan is an Emory University Certified Health/Wellness Coach, Group Exercise Instructor, and an ACE Certified Personal Trainer. She received her B.S. in Applied Health Science and Psychology from Wheaton College, where she first developed her love of coming alongside individuals and help them become their best self.
Meghan believes in a holistic approach to living and that our environments profoundly impact our overall health and wellness. Meghan is also the creative author of Whole Body Fitness: A Self-Guided Fitness Planner. She is an Air Force wife who loves simple living and being a homebody. Her favorite things include sipping green tea, sunflowers, and her heart and home are happiest when it’s filled with loved ones and friends gathered around the table full of fresh, whole food. Meghan loves people and the stories they live and she can’t wait to get to know yours and help you on your journey to your healthier, best self.