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It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month! Are You Aware?

We’re all very familiar with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s when everyone starts wearing the pink ribbons and buying pink accessories, shoe laces, and drawstring bags. It’s the month when all of your friends can get away with having “Save the boobies!” and “Feel your chest!” branded across their t-shirts. It’s easy to buy pink stuff, and join the crowd during the month of October. But, are we really breast cancer aware? Do we really know how to assess whether we are at risk, and how to take preventive measures against breast cancer? Arming yourself with this important information is crucial, not only for you, but for all of the other women in your life – your partner, your sister, your mother.

Now, what does it mean to be breast cancer aware? To be breast cancer aware means understanding the severity of breast cancer and the groups who are disproportionately impacted, as well as ways to protect yourself from breast cancer.

Understanding Breast Cancer

Did you know that, among U.S. women, breast cancer is the most common cancer, and is the second leading cause of cancer death (second to lung cancer)? It is estimated that, in 2012, there will be 226,870 new cases of invasive breast cancer among U.S. women.

Studies show that specific populations have higher rates of breast cancer. With regard to age, the risk of getting breast cancer increases as you get older; only five percent of breast cancers occur in women under 40. In terms of race and ethnicity, specific racial and ethnic groups are disproportionately impacted by breast cancer, namely African Americans, Ashkenazi Jews, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics/Latinas, and American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Among African American women, for example, these women are less likely than their Caucasian counterparts to get diagnosed with breast cancer, but they are more likely to die from it. Susan G. Komen proposes that this disparity is due to many factors, including biologic and genetic differences in tumors, prevalence of risk factors, barriers to healthcare access, health behaviors, and the later stage of breast cancer at diagnosis. Click here to learn more about the specific groups listed above.

You might ask, “Are LBQ women at an increased risk of breast cancer?” Studies show that this population does have a greater risk of breast cancer. One reason for this is LBQ women are less likely to visit a doctor regularly, due to past negative experiences with homophobic providers and the lower likelihood of having children. Because LBQ women are less likely to have children, they are less likely to seek reproductive healthcare and have fewer chances to get screened. Limited economic resources, lack of health insurance, and inability to share partner benefits may also impede LBQ women’s access to preventative healthcare and regular cancer screenings. Additionally, LBQ women are at higher risk for breast cancer due to lifestyle choices. This population has higher rates of smoking, alcohol use, and obesity, which increase one’s risk for breast cancer.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones

Given these statistics and facts, is it crucial to understand how to protect yourself and your loved ones from breast cancer. According to Susan G. Komen for the Cure®, protecting yourself involves four easy steps:

1. Know your risk

  • Talk to your family to learn about your family health history
  • Talk to your provider about your personal risk of breast cancer

2. Get screened

  • Ask your doctor which screening tests are right for you if you are at a higher risk
  • Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk
  • Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at age 20, and every year starting at age 40

3. Know what is normal for you
See your health care provider if you notice any of these breast changes:

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away

4. Make healthy lifestyle choices

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Add exercise into your routine
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Limit postmenopausal hormone use
  • Breastfeed, if you can

Of course, none of us are perfect. We all certainly could be eating a little better and exercising more. We all could be more diligent about visiting the doctor regularly for check-ups. But, the steps outlined above are truly simple – know your risk, get screened, know what’s normal for your body, and make healthy lifestyle choices. Strike up a conversation with your family members at the dinner table about your family health history. Ask your partner and friends about the last time that they had a clinical breast exam (Remember, trans men and trans women need breast/chest exams too!). Breast cancer awareness starts with YOU. Spread the word!

Guess what? Howard Brown Health Center can help you check the second step off your list! Did you know that you can receive a FREE breast/chest exam at Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC) if you’re uninsured? If you’re under 35 years of age, HBHC offers a monthly Women’s Health Drop-In Night, where you can receive not only your breast/chest exam, but also free HIV and STI testing, an introduction to counseling services, and low-cost group acupuncture ($15 per person). Our next Women’s Health Drop-In Night takes place on Wednesday, October 24th from 5-8PM at Howard Brown Health Center – 4025 N. Sheridan Rd. (Check-in starts at 5PM; Services start at 6PM). If you’re over 35 years of age, you can call our front desk to schedule an appointment: (773) 388-1600. We hope to see you soon for your screening!

Also, join LCCP on Wednesday, October 17th from 5:30 – 8PM at Howard Brown Health Center for a FREE screening of the film Forks Over Knives, followed by a discussion on the connection between plant-based eating and reducing your risk for breast cancer! Light appetizers will be provided.

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About Betsy

Betsy was born in Chicago and raised in the northern suburbs of the city. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with her B.A. in Philosophy, and went on to pursue her M.A. in Social Work from the University of Chicago. Over the past six years, Betsy has developed and pursued her passion for women’s health, LGBTQ issues, and social justice. In January of 2012, she became the Manager of the Lesbian Community Care Project (LCCP) at Howard Brown Health Center, the largest LGBTQ healthcare organization in the Midwest. Betsy is thrilled to join The L Stop team to write for the Queering Her Health blog. She hopes the blog will: 1) help LBTQ women get access to health information that is focused specifically on queer women’s health issues, 2) provide resources for LBTQ women to get connected to healthcare that is safe and affirming, and 3) encourage queer women to take care of themselves and their health, because we’re worth it!

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