Why Do We Wear Pink In October?

By: Madison Getz

October is the month when pink is seen everywhere. From sports teams to people in the community, thousands participate in National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This yearly event is organized by major breast cancer charities that share the same goals: educate people about the treatment and prevention of breast cancer. Throughout the country, people will participate in marches, marathons and conferences to help raise money and awareness.

But why pink? Pink has been the color of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation since it’s start. In 1990, the first breast cancer survivor program was launched at the Susan G. Komen Race for a Cure® in Washington D.C. Later that year, pink buttons were made by the survivor program to help promote awareness and programs. The next race, pink ribbons were distributed to all breast cancer survivors and race participants. In 1992, the editor-in-chief of Self Magazine teamed up with cosmetic companies to distribute pink ribbons in New York City stores for Breast Cancer Awareness Month (The Pink Ribbon Story). Since the rise in popularity, the pink ribbon idea has grown. Now, people will wear pink shirts, pink socks, pink scarves and other pink items to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Some Facts About Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer is the second most common cancer in women, behind skin cancer. In the U.S., 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. About 95% of those affected are women over the age of 40. However, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer. Around 2,470 men are diagnosed each year. But there is hope. There are over 3.3 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. (U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics). With new and innovative treatments, the five-year survival rate has increased to about 90% (White, 2019).

What is Breast Cancer?

Cancer begins when cells that the body doesn’t need are formed or when the body doesn’t remove old or damaged cells (The Breast Health Guide). The extra cells usually form a lump, growth or tumor. A tumor can be “malignant”, which means they are cancerous, or “benign”, which means non-cancerous.

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast tissue. It occurs when a lump or growth appears in the breast. The type of cancer depends on where the growth begins, if it spreads beyond the breast and where it spreads. Usually, breast cancer starts in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple, and some cancers also start in the glands that produce the milk. It can spread to lymph nodes, the liver, lungs, bones and the brain. In more rare cases, it can start in the skin and lymph nodes around the nipple (National Breast Cancer Foundation). Depending on these factors, treatment can range from radiation therapy to surgery.

Everyone has breast tissue, which means anyone can be diagnosed with breast cancer, even men. Less than 1% of all breast cancer cases are diagnosed in men (Male Breast Cancer). While breast cancer in men is rare, it is more deadly because there is little awareness of it. Men have the same ducts and glands that women do, even though they don’t function the same way. Men develop breast cancer the same way that women do.

The three common types of breast cancer are ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma. In situ means the breast cancer has not spread and invasive means that the cancer has spread to surrounding areas. Ductal carcinoma in situ is where the cells in the ducts have changed or look like they could be cancer cells and have not spread to other tissues. Ductal carcinoma in situ accounts for 1 in 10 cases of male breast cancer. Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common form of breast cancer and accounts for 8 of 10 cases of male breast cancer. It’s where the cells in the milk ducts have changed and the cancer has spread to other tissues. Invasive lobular carcinoma begins in the glands that produce milk and is rare in men, making up only 2% of male breast cancer, since men do not typically have a lot of this type of breast tissue (What is Breast Cancer in Men?).

Warning Signs in Males

Warning signs of male breast cancer are similar to symptoms shown in women. This can include a lump, unusual color of the skin or nipples, odd texture to the skin of the breast or discharge from the breasts. Warning signs can be detected with breast self-exams. Check for lumps and tenderness near the underarm area or nipples and see if there is a change in texture and an increase in the size of pores. Some more easily spotted signs would be a change in breast shape or size. Look for dimples, swelling, redness, inverted nipples and if one breast has a significant size difference from the other. Clear or bloody discharge from the nipple is another warning sign of breast cancer. When this happens, it is best to contact your doctor or other healthcare professional. Early detection increases treatment options and the likelihood of surviving.

Testing for certain genes can also be a helpful warning sign and give you time to take preventative action. The genes that are tested for are the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. BRCA stands for Breast Cancer gene. Usually, BRCA genes prevent cancers, however when they are damaged or changed, they can’t perform that function. These damaged BRCA genes are detectable and called BRCA1 and BRCA2. When a BRCA1 or BRCA2 is found, that means that gene is a mutated or damaged gene. This shows that a person has a higher risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. Among women with the BRCA1 gene 55-65% of them will develop breast cancer before the age of 70. About 42% of women with the BRCA2 gene will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Among men with the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 gene, about 17% will develop breast cancer. Genes are inherited, which means if one parent has tested positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, there is a 50% chance their child has it too. If this is the case speak to a doctor about what steps to take to test for the gene and for preventative care (Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer).

Causes and Myths

There are a variety of causes of breast cancer such as, family health history and radiation exposure. For men specifically, another cause can be higher levels of the hormone estrogen. A person has a higher risk of breast cancer if their parent has the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene or if multiple family members have had breast cancer. Radiation exposure due to overuse of tanning beds or constant use of medical imaging equipment can cause cancer in some cases.

There are also some myths about what causes breast cancer. Some of these myths are:

  1. Drinking milk and dairy products cause breast cancer
  2. A mammogram can cause breast cancer
  3. Breast cancer is contagious
  4. Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer
  5. Wearing a bra can cause breast cancer
  6. Carrying your cellphone in your bra can cause breast cancer

None of these are true! After years of studies, none of the examples listed above are linked as direct causes of breast cancer (Myths Archives). And, as we’ve discussed, breast cancer is caused by changes in cells that begin to spread into tissues within the breast; it is not a disease you can catch from someone else. If you are concerned about your risk of breast cancer, make an appointment with a medical professional to talk about your concerns.

FAQs

Early detection is the key! When breast cancer is found in the early stages, the five-year survival rate is 100%. Be sure to give yourself a breast self-exam once per month and look for the signs that were mentioned earlier in this article.

Leading a healthy lifestyle can lower the risk of developing breast cancer. This includes exercising, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and limiting alcohol. Exercise helps keep you at a healthy weight and boosts the immune system. Having a low-fat diet and eating a lot of fruits and vegetables reduces risk; a higher-fat diet causes estrogen (female hormone) to be made that can cause tumors to grow. Smoking is a well-known risk factor for all sorts of cancers, but in 2012, it has been confirmed as a factor for breast cancer (FAQs Archives). As for drinking alcohol, research has shown that having one drink each day slightly increases the risk.

Women ages 45 to 54 should receive annual breast cancer screenings. Before that age, mammograms are optional unless a person is at a higher risk. At age 55 and older, mammograms should take place every two years.

References

The Pink Ribbon Story [PDF]. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2019. From https://ww5.komen.org/uploadedfiles/content_binaries/the_pink_ribbon_story.pdf

U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics. (2019, February 13). Retrieved September 25, 2019, from https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics.

White, N. (2019, May 24). Here are 31 facts about breast cancer (one per day for October 2017): City of Hope. Retrieved October 2, 2019, from https://www.cityofhope.org/blog/31-facts-about-breast-cancer.

The Breast Health Guide [PDF]. (n.d.). American Cancer Society. Retrieved from https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/nbcf/BreastHealthGuide.pdf?utm_source=hs_automation&utm_medium=email&utm_content=56834854&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–Xec3CralDISoqIajezYdA8r1B07_3WOdM1CY3kwro-D-3jsa2rqTN4tStiRN5-pRmlCPSM89smkNt6-W36KZ0OMHTOw&_hsmi=56834854

Male Breast Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2019, from https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/male-breast-cancer.

What Is Breast Cancer in Men?: Male Breast Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2019, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer-in-men/about/what-is-breast-cancer-in-men.html.

Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2019, from https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/genetic-testing-for-breast-cancer.

Myths Archives. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2019, from https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-myths/.

FAQs Archives. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2019, from https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-faqs/.

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