Every October, the world dons a shade of pink, united in a cause larger than any individual – Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This period serves as a poignant reminder of the lives touched and irrevocably changed by breast cancer.
With around 2.3 million women diagnosed annually, Breast Cancer Awareness Month isn't merely an observance; it is a call to educate, raise awareness, and facilitate early detection.
By showing this issue, we support and honor those fighting the battle and arm countless others with awareness of how to prevent, detect and seek timely intervention against this terrible disease.
Skin health can often be a mirror to our overall health
USTAWI knows skin, the body's largest organ.
We know our skin often serves as a direct indicator of our inner health. It reacts to our emotional states, dietary habits, and internal disruptions, painting a vivid picture of our well-being. For individuals with melanin-rich skin, these signals can sometimes be subtle yet profoundly telling.
We at USTAWI have worked very hard to develop our expertise in holistic wellbeing as the basis for healthy, beautiful skin, so we understand well that blemishes, skin sensitivities, and any changes to the skin can be a sign of the body’s internal imbalances.
In the same way, changes in the breast can be the earliest signal of deeper health concerns. We believe in well-being inside and out and paying attention to all the signals our bodies send us. For total wellbeing, proactive health maintenance is key.
Melanin-rich Skin and Breast Health
Melanin-rich skin, while beautifully diverse in its shades, carries with it a set of unique challenges when it comes to health considerations, including breast health.
One significant factor is the higher density of breast tissue often found in women with darker skin tones. Dense breast tissue not only makes tumors harder to spot on mammograms but also might slightly increase the risk of breast cancer.
Furthermore, skin discolorations or hyperpigmentation, more common in melanin-rich skin, can sometimes obscure visual signs of inflammatory breast cancer, a rare but aggressive form. Thus, individuals with darker skin tones should be particularly attentive to tactile changes, given that visual signs might be subtle or even masked by natural skin pigmentation variations.
Disparities in detection or treatment
It is disheartening but real - disparities exist in the medical world, particularly when it comes to breast cancer detection and treatment in women of color. Studies have shown that Black women, for example, are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer than their white counterparts (1).
This disparity is compounded by socio-economic factors, access to healthcare, and sometimes even unconscious biases in medical care. Once diagnosed, women of color may also face disparities in treatment options, follow-up care, and support. These discrepancies underscore the importance of not only self-care, but also advocating for equitable healthcare access and raising awareness within our communities. Being informed and proactive becomes doubly vital in the face of such systemic challenges.
Why early detection is Crucial
The importance of early detection in breast cancer cannot be overstated.
Early detection significantly increases the chances of successful treatment, less aggressive interventions, and higher survival rates. When breast cancer is identified at an initial stage, the 5-year survival rate can be higher than 90% (2).
Furthermore, early detection not only provides medical advantages but also presents psychological and emotional benefits. Knowing one's body, understanding its signals, and acting promptly on any irregularities can offer a sense of empowerment. It fosters a proactive approach to one's health, transforming potential anxiety into informed action.
In addition to regular exams and diagnostic imaging by your healthcare provider, the most important key to early detection is literally in your hands.
What is a breast self-examination?
Breast Self-Examination (BSE) is a simple yet essential procedure that every individual, regardless of gender, should familiarize themselves with.
A BSE is the regular and systematic checking of your own breasts for any abnormal changes. This includes observing and feeling for lumps, changes in size or shape, skin changes, and any unusual pain or discharge
Steps to Conduct a Proper Self-Examination
A step-by-step guide with emphasis on care and attentiveness
Conducting a breast self-examination might seem daunting initially, but with regular practice, it can become a seamless part of one's monthly routine. Taking the time to be attentive and caring towards oneself during this process is crucial. Here's a thorough guide:
Begin Visually: Start your examination in front of a mirror with your hands placed firmly on your hips. Look for any changes in the size, shape, or position of your breasts. It's crucial to notice any skin dimpling, puckering, redness, or swelling. Rotate to view your breasts from multiple angles. Finally, raise your arms overhead and observe any changes under this new posture.
Feel While Lying Down: Lying down ensures that the breast tissue spreads out, making it thinner and thereby easier to feel. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and rest your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move your fingers in a circular motion from the outside to the center of the breast. Use light, medium, and firm pressure, ensuring you feel the entire breast and armpit area. Repeat the same process for your left breast.
Feel While Standing: Many individuals find it useful to conduct this portion while in the shower since the skin is slippery. Raise your right arm, and using your left hand, repeat the same circular motion, ensuring you cover the entirety of the breast and armpit. Switch sides and ensure a thorough examination.
Check for Nipple Discharge: Finally, with gentle pressure, squeeze the nipple and check for any discharge, which could be watery, yellowish, or bloody. While some discharge can be natural, any sudden changes or blood should be reported to a healthcare professional.
During every step, the emphasis should remain on attentiveness. If you are new to BSE, remember that breasts have their unique texture and can often feel lumpy. With time, you will be able to discern your "normal" from any anomalies. Never hesitate to reach out to a healthcare provider if something feels off or if you are unsure about a finding.
Of course, breast cancer awareness is not limited to just one month. Regular self-examinations, as we have highlighted, are a powerful tool in early detection, potentially saving lives. Knowledge is power, a power that is amplified through sharing. Share, discuss, become an advocate. Whether it's guiding a loved one through their first self-exam, hosting community awareness sessions, or simply sharing educational content on social media, every action matters. By elevating individual responsibility to a collective one, we can amplify the impact, turning isolated efforts into a concerted movement against breast cancer.
Links to reputable sources for further reading or to make donations
For those seeking to delve deeper into this cause, there are several reputable organizations and platforms dedicated to breast cancer research, support, and advocacy. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation is a commendable place to begin, offering a wealth of information and resources. Similarly, Susan G. Komen stands as a beacon of hope for many, driving research and providing support to affected individuals. For those looking to make a direct impact, consider donating to organizations like these, where funds are channeled into life-saving research, treatment options, and support systems. Remember, each contribution, no matter how small, can make a significant difference.