Why Does it Seem Breast Cancer is on the Rise?

October is breast cancer awareness month, and unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand, you know the scary statistics. 1 in 8 women in the United States will get breast cancer. 1 in 8! There are 6 chambers in a revolver. Imagine someone asked you to play Russian Roulette! The odds of pulling the trigger on the bullet aren’t much worse than a woman’s odds of getting cancer of the breast. Luckily, and thanks to years of scientific research, the outcome holds much more hope. Breast cancer is no longer akin to a bullet to the head. Yet, as I hear of more and more women I know receiving this horrendous diagnosis, I am starting to feel like this is just a game of odds.

And, if it is just a game of chance, doesn’t it feel like the odds are much worse for us than they were a generation or two ago? According to the Susan G. Komen organization, breast cancer increased a little over 1% from the 1940s to the 1980s, but then rose quickly into the 1990s. Experts attribute this rise to increased screening. Reports say incidence has since leveled off. But, at 41 years old, it doesn’t feel like that to me.

There has been much speculation about what causes breast cancer, and specifically, what caused it to rise. Everything, from pollution to plastic to diet coke to underwire bras, has been scrutinized, but none have been proven to increase risk. Yet it feels as if we are doing something wrong, because why else do we know so many women who have cancer? When you start to panic, and start worrying about what you should be changing, consider this:

– survival has improved enormously, so there are more women living with, not dying from, breast cancer

– life expectancy has increased, and risk for breast cancer increases with age … older women = more breast cancer

– women are having fewer children, often at older ages, and pregnancy does offer some protective benefit against breast cancer. However, prevention is not a great reason to have a baby, so there’s nothing you can change here.

– breast cancer detection is better, resulting in increased numbers of diagnoses. These early diagnoses are saving lives.

– we are no longer ashamed to use the word BREAST — or CANCER, for that matter. Your parents’ generation wasn’t wearing pink ribbons and exposing bald heads to raise awareness.

A big part of the reason you feel like there is more breast cancer, is because we are talking about it. Thank God for this conversation — it is saving lives.

Stop worrying about the things you cannot change. Based on the current evidence, what can you do to prevent breast cancer?

– maintain a healthy weight
– exercise
– enjoy a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
– drink alcohol in moderation (or, not at all – OUCH!)
– see your doctor and stay current on your recommended screening exams

*there is ongoing research about how working night shifts may increase risk, but before you quit your night job, I suggest giving the evidence time to sort itself out.

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