October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You will see pink ribbons worn during charity walks, companies showing support through pink products and even your favorite NFL team sporting pink on Sundays. But what does it all really mean? And what can be done beyond wearing pink?

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast. Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women.

The American Cancer Society states that “when breast cancer is detected early, and is in the localized stage, the 5-year relative survival rate is 100%”

However, it is important to note:

  • 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
  • Each year in the United States, more than 200,000 women get breast cancer and more than 40,000 women die from the disease.
  • There is an increased risk of breast cancer as women get older. Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older. However;
  • 11% of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age.
  • Men also get breast cancer, but it is not very common. Less than 1% of breast cancers occur in men.

Breast Cancer Screening for Women
Mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Getting regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that if you are 50 to 74 years old, you should have a screening mammogram every two years.

If you are 40 to 49 years old, talk to your doctor about when to start and how often to get a screening mammogram.

Guidelines do differ. The American Cancer Society recommends a baseline mammogram and risk assessment at age 40, followed by the opportunity for annual screening mammograms. Your physician is your best resource for mammography recommendations. They may also recommend monthly breast self-exams beginning at age 20, and an annual clinical breast exam performed by a physician or other health care practitioner.

Risk Factors
As in most disease processes, if you have risk factors, you may be more likely to get breast cancer. Among risks which can be controlled, the National Breast Cancer Foundation lists frequent alcohol consumption, being overweight (especially after menopause),a poor diet and a lack of physical activity.

The risk factors you cannot modify may include a personal or family history of breast cancer, onset of menstrual periods at a young age, late menopause, changes in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and aging.

Awareness, then Screening Mammography
Awareness is certainly the first link in the chain of survival from breast cancer. Early detection through examinations and especially mammography will improve survival rates, as noted. Companies can diminish the burden of illness in employees and family members by insuring that benefit plans cover appropriate screenings without out-of-pocket expense. And promoting awareness in the workplace can be part of an approach toward yielding positive employee relations outcomes.