For years, October and the color pink have signified Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The familiar pink ribbon stands for prevention, detection, treatment and, reflecting the symbol's mission, the spread of awareness. From consistent monitoring to lifestyle changes, there are many ways to prevent breast cancer or catch it in its earliest stages – when success rates are higher.
October has also been designated Dental Hygiene Month, combining a profession of motivated oral care experts with an equally driven community inspired by women's health. As a dental hygienist, I can provide a unique perspective for how my work allows me to help others plan for early detection.
How Breast Cancer Occurs
According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer begins most often in the milk ducts. This ductal carcinoma can then spread into surrounding tissue, which contains lymph nodes and blood vessels. Early detection is key for a complete cure, and great strides are being made that make this cure a reality for more women every day. Breast cancer primarily affects women as the second most common cancer diagnosed. Although rare in men, however, the disease does not discriminate. Each year, the U.S. sees 230,000 new cases in women, along with 2,300 in men.
Happenings During This Month
Throughout the month of October, events across the country are raising money and awareness to help fight breast cancer. Perhaps the most well known is the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, an event that takes place nationwide (as well as a few other countries around the world) to help fund research, community outreach, advocacy and programs that educate women worldwide on how to prevent and fight breast cancer. You can also explore the National Breast Cancer Foundation to learn about golf tournaments, costume parties, knitting marathons and similar local events that contribute to this movement across the country. There are many ways to get involved; you might even plan an event of your own.
Plan to Stay Healthy
As a dental hygienist, I like to chat with my patients about their overall health. To this end, part of a regular visit includes an updated medical history that focuses on prevention – taking positive steps to keep their mouths and bodies healthy. I always include questions about my female patients' early detection plans for breast cancer. Following the guidelines provided by the American Cancer Society, all women should:
- Receive yearly mammograms beginning at age 40.
- Conduct monthly breast self-exams.
- Have a breast exam by a gynecologist or other physician every three years from age 20 to 39, then every year after 40.
Keep in mind that not smoking, limiting alcohol and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can also help to reduce your chances of developing breast cancer.
Early detection dictates the treatment protocol and increases one's chances for full remission. Options for treatment have changed in recent years, with tests that help determine whether chemotherapy is needed in addition to surgery and radiation. With any cancer treatment, however, your focus needs to be on building your stamina to help your body fight the disease, and that includes your oral health. For example, continue to brush twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste like Colgate TotalSF Clean Mint. Oral health during cancer treatments needs to be monitored, and your dentist or dental hygienist can counsel you on basic oral health care during treatment.
With any disease or condition, early diagnosis is key. So, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, focus on fighting breast cancer before it sets in – that includes seeking the recommended routine screenings for yourself and becoming an advocate for other women. According to Breastcancer.org, breast cancer affects one in eight women, and chances are you know someone – a mother, a sister, a friend – who has confronted it. This month, like every month, think pink, stay healthy and celebrate your good health.