Most people know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Everything’s pink and women and men alike proudly sport the pink ribbon. But what most people don’t know is that a woman in Ireland is diagnosed with breast cancer every three hours? Or that it can affect men as well as women? Or that it affects woman at any age? “I was only 26 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” says Vivian Santiago, a breast cancer survivor and volunteer with Reach to Recovery.
Fiona Ward, one of the ambassadors for this year’s breast cancer awareness campaign, decided to take part after her sister, Edith, was diagnosed. “May last year Edith was given the devastating news that she had breast cancer at only 29 years of age this was just so hard for all to take.”
While breast cancer has become something that everyone is aware of, and has become very treatable in recent years, there is always a danger of the publicity overshadowing the reality. Breast cancer is still the second most common cancer in women in Ireland, with skin cancer being the most common. It affects over 2,500 women every year and while it is more common in women over 50, it can occur in women under 30. It’s estimated that women in Ireland have a 10% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.
It is also important to remember that studies have shown the contraceptive pill appears to slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, particularly among young women. However, studies have also shown that it seems to lower the risk of ovarian cancer; so, every cloud.
But, while some of the facts may shock the system, it’s not all worry and sadness; over 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer survive for five years or more. The Irish Cancer Society raised nearly €750,000 last year for breast cancer research, support, patient care and the national cancer helpline.
Despite still not knowing the cause of breast cancer, there are still ways you can reduce your risk. Mainly, it is important to be breast aware. That means knowing yourself well enough to notice any change that could mean something’s wrong so get it checked, but remember, it could be nothing. Also, maintain a generally healthy lifestyle, which will do you no harm anyway. Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, take regular exercise and of course reduce drinking and smoking.
Cancer is one of scariest words for people to hear, and it can be an even bigger shock when you think you’re too young to get it. But it can be fought and it’s not as scary as it once was and this month is a perfect excuse to cover yourself head to toe in pink. It’s raising awareness, after all.