Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Breast Cancer Awareness

I knew I had been adopted for as long as I could remember.

I was 2 1/2 when they brought me home.

I was 14 when I found my biological brother, we started looking for our family.

I was 24 when we found my biological father.

I was 25 when we found my biological mother.

What did we find out?

Lots of things, enough to fill a book or two, however one of the most important was our medical past, our genetic makeup. We had one huge thing to worry about... Cancer.

My maternal grandmother was 35 when she died from breast cancer, leaving behind three young children.

My aunt had it and she was in her 30's when we found out. I never knew what happened to her.

Now here I am, 35 and wondering what to look for. What are my signs? Will my doctor notice them? Can I trust her to understand my fear of leaving my little ones behind?

So, it's time I do my research.

The most common risk factors:*
  • Sex. The highest risk factor for breast cancer is being female; the disease is about 100 times more common among women.
  • Age. The risk of breast cancer increases as a woman grows older. The risk is especially high for women age 60 and older. Breast cancer is uncommon in women younger than age 35, although it does occur. There is some evidence to suggest young African American women are at greater risk for breast cancer than young Caucasian women.
  • Personal History. Women who have had breast cancer and women with a history of breast disease (not cancer, but a condition that may predispose them to cancer) may develop it again.
  • Family History. The risk of developing breast cancer increases for a woman whose mother, sister, daughter, or two or more close relatives have had the disease. It is important to know how old they were at the time they were diagnosed.
  • The Breast Cancer Genes. Some individuals, both women and men, may be born with an "alteration" (or change) in one of two genes that are important for regulating breast cell growth. Individuals who inherit an alteration in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are at an "inherited" higher risk for breast cancer. They also may pass this alteration on to their children. It is very rare. Scientists estimate that only about 5-10 percent of all breast cancers are due to genetic changes. One out of two women with these changes are likely to develop breast cancer. Women with a family history of breast cancer are encouraged to speak to a genetics counselor to determine the pros and cons of genetic testing.

    The next 5 risk factors all involve estrogen, a hormone that naturally occurs in men and women. However, at the time menstruation begins, women start to produce larger amounts of estrogen and will continue to do so until they reach menopause. Estrogen appears to play a key role in breast cancer. Although estrogen doesn't actually cause breast cancer, it may stimulate the growth of cancer cells. Estrogen-related risk factors are:

  • Having an early menarche (first period or menstrual bleeding). Women who begin menstruating before age 12 are at increased risk of developing breast cancer. The more menstrual cycles a woman has over her lifetime, the more likely she is to get the disease.
  • Having a first pregnancy after age 25 or 35. Although early pregnancies may help lower the chances of getting breast cancer, particularly before the age of 25, these same hormonal changes after age 35 may contribute to the incidence of breast cancer.
  • Having no children. Women who experience continuous menstrual cycles until menopause are at a higher than average risk.
  • Use of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Based on the Women's Health Initiative Study (2002), women do appear to have an increased risk of breast cancer while they are on HRT and a short time thereafter, compared to those who have never used postmenopausal HRT. This is based on a study of 16,000 healthy postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 who were taking either estrogen plus progestin as HRT or a placebo (an inactive pill).
  • Use of Oral Contraceptives (OCs) and Breast Cancer. Current or former use of OCs among women ages 35 to 64 did not significantly increase the risk of breast cancer. The findings were similar for Caucasian and African-American women. Data also show that former OC use does not increase the risk of breast cancer later in life.
*information taken from the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month website

What can I do?

Get tested early.
Stop Smoking.
Watch my alcohol intake.
Watch my fatty intake.
Eat healthier.

For my children... I think I can work on all of these, I plan on seeing them marry, have fat little babies that I get to spoil.

We all have a story, please join the Props and Pans DVDs for the Cure and share yours. You have the chance to win a 15 DVD set and help spread the word about breast cancer.


Caroline said...

What an excellent post! Thank you for writing this. I've got BC history in my fam as well, altho post-menopausal. I am so glad you found out your history and can be as pro-active as possible. I am going to get busy and retweet, stumble this, etc. Mind if I link to it also later on?

Nydia said...

Loved reading this, information is never too much, no matter how many times we read about it. I also have a cancer history in my family, skin cancer that killed my sister (from a brain metastasis) and prostata's that worries my brothers. I know smoe things are harder to do like quitting smoking and exercising, but believe me, anything gets easier once you closely watch this disease's development. I'm so sure you can accomplish these "six must-to-do".

Your life story is amazing, Lilith! I keep wondering about how hard it must have been to you. Warrior girl! :o)

Kisses from Nydia.

FENICLE said...

This was great to read. What a way to tell your story. Thank you for doing this!!

Joanna said...

Thanks for this post...It is so important that we as women do these things and take the steps to help ourselves!