Your Health

Breast cancer awareness key to reducing mortality rate 

Photo of teen girl carrying a heavy backpack.
Photo of Karen Kyliuk. SUSAN DENNEHY
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, October 6, 2017

Every year, the month of October is dedicated to pink ribbon campaigns, galas, runs and events – all part of a larger effort to raise awareness about the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.

In addition to celebrating the lives of those who have been touched by this illness, these events are also designed to raise funds for research that will one day lead to a cure for this disease.

As always, there is a sense of urgency surrounding the activities taking place this month in Winnipeg and elsewhere around the globe.

After all, it is estimated that 26,300 women and 230 men in Canada will be diagnosed with this devastating disease in 2017. Nearly 5,000 women and 43 men will die from it. In fact, breast cancer remains the second leading cause of death among women, right after lung cancer.

Yet, it is important to remember that along with these sobering statistics there is also some good news to report: the mortality rate for breast cancer is on the decline, and has been for some time.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, breast cancer deaths among Canadian women, based on age-adjusted mortality rates, peaked at 41.7 deaths per 100,000 people in 1986. Since then, it has continued to drop, slowly but surely, to a projected rate of 23.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017.

That's a 44 per cent drop, and it means Canada's breast cancer mortality rate is now the lowest it has been since 1950. Similar declines have been observed in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.
There are many reasons for this dramatic improvement.

First and foremost, women are much more knowledgeable about breast cancer. This has led to increased mammography screening, which has led to earlier detection.

Treatment has also improved, particularly with the advent of more effective therapies following breast cancer surgery.

Health-care providers, including those working at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s Breast Health Centre at 400 Taché Ave., have been a part of this progress.

The center’s health-care team coordinates clinical assessment, diagnostic tests, treatment, education and support through a variety of specialized services and programs for all Manitobans who have signs or symptoms of breast cancer, all under one roof. Most clients coming to the centre are referred by their health-care provider, but they also accept self-referrals.

While progress is being made, there is still more that can be done to drive down mortality rates further still. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is not only a time to get involved, contribute and raise awareness, it is also an opportunity to take action for your own breast health to reduce your risk of breast cancer.

That’s why organizations like the Breast Health Centre continue to stress the importance of awareness and education. The “Three Bs” campaign is a case in point. It encourages women and men to reduce their risk of breast cancer by:

  • Being healthy: This involves maintaining a healthy weight, reducing your alcohol intake, being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day and abstaining from cigarettes. The American Institute for Cancer Research estimates that 33 per cent of all breast cancer cases in the United States could be prevented with healthy, everyday changes to what we eat and how much we move.
  • Being aware: This means looking at your breasts, touching them and knowing how they change each month. If you are familiar with your breasts, you are more likely to notice changes, such as the appearance of a lump, which can be a sign of breast cancer. Being aware also involves understanding general risk factors and your personal risk factors for breast cancer.
  • Being informed: This means knowing where to get breast health information and support. If you have received a letter for breast screening, it’s important to make an appointment. If you feel a change in your breasts, make an appointment to see a health-care professional.

Of course, following the Three Bs does not guarantee you won’t develop breast cancer at some point in your life. That’s because some of the factors that influence the development of this disease, such as gender, age and family history, cannot be controlled. But it is important to remember that the healthier you are, the more aware you are, and the more informed you are, the lower your risk will be.

Susan Dennehy is a clinical nurse specialist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s Breast Health Centre. This article was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, October 6, 2017.

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