Spinal Column: October campaign brings breast cancer awareness, education

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

For women in Michigan, breast cancer is the most common newly diagnosed cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer deaths.

In the United States, about one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lives, and this year, an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed, along with 63,960 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.

As these numbers indicate, this dreadful disease is too common; nearly all of us in our lifetime will know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

That is why here in the state and across the nation, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to increase awareness and educate women regarding the disease.

An important tool in the fight is medical screening. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, breast cancer risk increases with age, and studies have shown that older women tend to be diagnosed with breast cancer more than younger women. When it comes to when to start screening and how often to screen, however, many experts say there is no one answer that suits all women, and national organizations have different recommendations.

Women over the age of 40 need to discuss screening with their health provider, including a discussion of their personal and family history. This will help providers assess the risk for developing breast cancer and to make screening recommendations based on the woman’s individual risk.

Factors that put women at a higher-than-average risk for breast cancer include:
• Increasing age;
• Personal history of breast cancer;
• Family history of breast cancer;
• Specific genetic mutations;
• Dense breast tissue;
• Never giving birth or having first pregnancy after age 30; and
• Starting menstruation at a young age.

With these factors in mind, it is vital for all women to know that early detection of breast cancer increases the effectiveness of available treatments.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation provides a free guide and checklist to detect breast cancer symptoms. Visit www.NationalBreastCancer.org/Breast-Cancer-Awareness-Month to download the guide and to learn more about the disease.

Also check out the Donate link at the site. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, your donation will help provide a mammogram to a woman in need.

Despite the sobering statistics, there is some good news. Death rates from the disease have decreased over time because of heightened awareness that’s led to increased screening and improved treatment options. And the number of breast cancer deaths and new diagnoses of breast cancer in Michigan are in decline.

This should encourage us all. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, may we continue to educate ourselves and others, support family and friends in the fight, and take the necessary steps as we work to eradicate this terrible disease.

This column first appeared in the Spinal Column newsweekly. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the Michigan Senate majority floor leader. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.