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Breast Cancer Awareness Month promotes awareness, prevention

Since 1985, October has been known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This is a result of a partnership between the American Cancer Society and Imperial Chemical Industries that was created to promote prevention tools to fight breast cancer. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is usually common in women aged 50 years or older, but can be found in patients younger and older. While it typically affects women later in life, it’s also essential for students, especially those with breasts, to be aware of the signs of the disease and prevention tools to stop further complications.

“I think it is important because if a person has breast tissue, it's important for them to know what is normal so that if something changes they know that it's important to get it checked out,” Jane Balbo, a family physician and assistant professor at Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, said. “From a college campus perspective, it is very rare for people in the typical college age group to get breast cancer, but there are some times that actually they can.”

Signs of breast cancer can vary, and students should rely on prevention tools like self-checks, mammograms and annual wellness checks according to Balbo. Common signs are a lump in the breast, cracking or bleeding of the breast or nipple and nipple discharge. The bottom line: students should know what their breasts normally look and feel like.

Students should also note lumps in the breast do not always indicate breast cancer, and it’s normal to have abnormalities as long as one addresses them with their care provider.

“If they're not sure if something is normal, go get it checked,” Balbo said. “Learn from your medical provider what is normal about your breasts, and then be familiar with them so that if something changes, you can get it checked.”

Additionally, education is key to understanding breast cancer and its signs. Madison Centofanti, a second-year medical student in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, said with the array of free health care resources OU has, students should use these to their advantage to learn more about breast cancer.

Centofanti said she also values OU’s stance on learning about different diseases like breast cancer, as her experience as a medical student has taught her to look at it holistically, which she encourages students to do.

“What I love about our university is we learn things very holistically,” Centofanti said. “Honestly, if you have one disease, it can progress to another disease and another and another, so the earlier you can catch things, the more you can prevent things from spreading to different organ systems.”

Other resources students should look at can be found by just a simple Google search of medical organizations that focus on breast cancer, like the American Cancer Society. Students should also look into OU’s past educational initiatives and studies focused on breast cancer.

“With these awareness months that we have, it's giving organizations an opportunity to not only just remind people of breast cancer awareness, or whichever awareness month it is,” Christina Wolf, the clinical training and assessment coordinator for the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, said. “It gives researchers and individuals time to devote their time specifically to that cause and re-educate people on making sure that they're doing the self-exams and making sure they are advocating for their health care.”

Outside of Athens, mammograms and wellness checks should be highly prioritized by students, as they are the best prevention tools to use. There are free mammograms available, especially if individuals are at high risk for breast cancer, which Balbo said can be prioritized for students.

Shivani Singh, a second-year medical student in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, said on a local level Athens should focus on educating women about how to do self-checks on a regular basis.

“Locally, I think it's really important just for the community to be aware that breast cancer is very prevalent and it could happen to anyone,” Singh said. “It's really important to educate everyone about how to screen because it's something that they can do by themselves at home. It's something that can be caught very quickly and early on if everyone does it correctly.”

Annual checkups can also help students and women in Athens take care of their bodies, as care providers can keep patients up to date with their medical needs.

“The reality is there are a lot of things we can be attending to during those annual checkups, including making sure vaccines are up to date, including HPV vaccination for cancer prevention, making sure that we have any screenings that are recommended based on if we're sexually active, what body parts we use for sex,” Balbo said. “If there's a family history of any cancers, are there any recommendations for cancer screenings? Are there any recommendations for other kinds of blood tests?”

Wolf also said practicing self-care is a great prevention tool for students to utilize if they want to take charge of their health.

“Preventative care and early detection is going to be the best solution for the best outcome, so with that, also practicing self-care,” Wolf said. “It's going to raise the chances of finding the disease early, and then also making sure that the available treatments are most likely to succeed.”

While Breast Cancer Awareness Month only occurs in October, its advocacy goes beyond this time of the year, meaning that students should seek out further education and awareness of the disease.

Showing support year-round can affect a patient’s outlook, as well as give them a sense of hope. Centofanti experienced this constant support from her community after her tennis coach was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I know for her this October, and other awareness of breast cancer, it made her not feel so alone and so isolated because it is a common thing for women to experience and I think it's more common than most people know,” Centofanti said. 

Singh also said that showing constant support can inspire not only doctors but patients, to keep going even in the midst of their cancer battles.

“I know October is a peak time of when people donate because I think they are more aware of it,” Singh said. “It's definitely something that we can support people throughout the year because their lives are always going to be affected by breast cancer, not just doctors, so it's important to support them.”

This October, it is important to take the time to learn more about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as well as support those who have been affected, or currently are being affected, by the disease.


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