On Sept. 28, Julia Louis-Dreyfus announced she has breast cancer. On her official Twitter account, the actress wrote: “1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one.”
The Centers for Disease Control says breast cancer is the second most common cancer to strike women (after skin cancer), regardless of race or ethnicity. About 252,000 women and 2,740 men are expected to be diagnosed with the disease in 2017. Eighty-one percent of breast cancers are diagnosed among women 50 years and older, and 89 percent of breast cancer deaths occur in this age group.
But there is good news. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer death rates are declining significantly. The mortality rate from the disease dropped almost 40 percent between 1989 and 2015, averting 322,600 deaths. Breast cancer rates increased about 0.4 percent every year from 1975 to 1989
Since then, thanks to better chemotherapy regimens developed in the 1980s (that still continue to improve) and earlier detection by mammography, mortality rates began to drop sharply.
As of Jan. 1, 2016, more than 3.5 million women were living in the U.S. with a history of breast cancer. Some of these women were still undergoing treatment and others were cancer-free. Nine out of 10 women with breast cancer will live more than five years after their initial diagnosis and 81 percent will live at least 15 years. Thanks to medical technology and research, the vast majority of women can expect to live active lives long after diagnosis and treatment.
Women can help lower their risks by making good life choices such as staying at a healthy weight, being physically active, limiting alcohol intake, and avoiding tobacco. Monthly self-checks and yearly mammograms as required are vital to early detection.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The annual campaign helps increase awareness of the disease and raises money for research and treatment. (A word of caution: While pink ribbons have become the symbol of the fight, they have also become a red hot marketing tool. A pink ribbon slapped on an item does not necessarily mean one penny of your money is going toward breast cancer. Before you donate, check where your money is going.)
Almost all of us know someone who has been affected by breast cancer. The successes have been impressive and the survivors are courageous and strong. One day we will beat this terrible disease. But until that time comes, we can all do our part. Please be generous. Join the fight.