Imagine: your husband is serving your country away from home when you get diagnosed with breast cancer. Your biggest support is thousands of miles away, and you feel totally helpless… what’s next?
About 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point in their lives. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we want to inform you of the signs and risk factors of breast cancer, so you can take the right approach to managing your health.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a campaign that stretches worldwide to raise awareness of the importance for breast cancer screenings and preventive checks. It’s marked by vibrant displays of pink-hued support from around the world. Prominent buildings like the White House and Tokyo Tower are illuminated in the color. NFL players are often decked out in neon gear. Countless fundraisers and 5Ks are hosted to raise money for cancer research, and pink merchandise is sold by companies everywhere. Since Breast Cancer Awareness Month’s inception in 1985, it has become one of the largest annual month-long campaigns in existence.
Of the 1.38 million new cases of breast cancer each year, the majority of deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries where it is often diagnosed in late stages due to lack of awareness and early detection. Access to adequate health services and information could dramatically decrease the number of deaths by this disease.
The good news is, as a service member, military spouse, or dependent, you are provided with healthcare that supports you.
TRICARE Has Your Back
TRICARE covers a range of cancer screenings, including annual mammograms for women over 40, as well as for women 30+ who have greater risk of developing breast cancer. They pay for several different routes of care: chemotherapy, radiation therapy, clinical trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, and mastectomies for those at-risk or already diagnosed with breast cancer. TRICARE places utmost importance on patient wellness. They cover breast reconstruction and/or breast prosthetics with mastectomy bras. Men at risk of breast cancer are also provided with screenings; though rare, there are 2,000 new cases of male breast cancer every year.
Taking advantage of these preventive screenings could save your life. Beyond seeing a doctor, reducing your risk of breast cancer starts with prioritizing your health day-to-day.
Assess Your Risk
Factors such as family history of the disease, radiation exposure, obesity, increasing age, taking birth control, and consumption of alcohol can all increase your risk of developing breast cancer. While some of these are unavoidable, maintaining a relatively healthy life that includes a balanced diet and regular exercise are good steps to take. Ask your doctor about how to perform self-exams on your breasts to check for any lumps or unusual signs.
Women with a family history of breast cancer may choose to be assessed for the cancer gene. Depending on the likelihood of developing cancer, they can take preventive steps against it such as estrogen-blocking medications or even surgery. It is estimated that 5-10% of breast cancers are linked to inherited gene mutations. The most well-known are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which significantly increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Signs & Symptoms: Be Vigilant
The most common signs of breast cancer include any unexplained changes in the feeling or appearance of your breasts or nipples. If you feel a lump, it’s important to remember that it may not be cancerous, but to go in for a screening anyway. Change in size or shape, dimpling on the breast, slight inversion of the nipple, or extreme skin irritation are also signs. The skin may take on the texture of an orange peel, or become ridged/pitted like an orange. Any nipple discharge when you are not breastfeeding warrants a doctor’s visit immediately. Be aware; if something seems off, your best option is to get it checked.
As a service member or part of a military family, the sense of responsibility and duty you feel toward your country needs to include your health. Encourage others to learn about what affects their risk of breast cancer, and to get regular screenings.
After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among women in the U.S. Survival rates and advancements in treatment continue to increase, largely due to support for awareness and funding. However, until this deadly disease is eradicated, it’s more important than ever to make strides for a cure
To find out more about breast cancer and the importance of awareness, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation here:
“Breast Cancer.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Mar. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/breast-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352470.
“COAST GUARD All Hands.” All Hands, allhands.coastguard.dodlive.mil/2016/12/19/tricare-and-you-breast-cancer-prevention-and-treatment/.