October is flying by and the current spotlight on it being Breast Cancer Awareness Month will be rapidly dimmed. We cannot afford to have awareness fatigue and become complacent when it comes to this disease.

Yes, there is much to be hopeful for and we have made tremendous strides in terms of advancement in therapies, earlier detection due in part to such public campaigns and greater availability of screenings. Mainly, this is a result of the longstanding investment advocacy has made in the field.

But, people are still being diagnosed, enduring treatment and dying from the disease: 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excluding some skin cancers, “breast cancer in the United States is the most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity…While rates of cancer diagnoses and cancer deaths continue to decline each year, the number of new cases and deaths is going up. This happens because the size of our population is growing and aging each year.” Additionally, there are a host of barriers to care and racial disparities in terms of survival that require continued commitment to overcome.

The good news is there is a lot that can be done and learned to be proactive and empower yourself, because with earlier diagnosis and treatment comes improved outcomes.

First, it is important to recognize there is a lot of misperception that abounds when discussing the topic. For instance, many falsely believe that only those with a significant family history are at risk for breast cancer, when in reality about 85% of women diagnosed do not have such a history. So, it is important to appreciate that anyone can get breast cancer – as being female and aging are leading risks. With early detection and proper screening along with open communication with a trusted physician you see regularly, you can take active measures to stay healthy and intervene when most beneficial. Your doctor can help you stratify your individual risk and guide your shared decision-making on how best to monitor you (for general information on screening and mammography for those at average risk see here, for those at higher risk seehere).

Resources and support are available no matter where you fall in the spectrum in terms of seeking out materials or information on prevention, managing disease or living with metastatic breast cancer. In fact, I will be speaking on the trauma of diagnosis and how to support families next month at a free Komen event open to the public in Philadelphia – it is geared toward those who have survived breast cancer or are living with metastatic disease (register here).

There is scientific research underway with progress being made all of the time. So, do not despair if the issue reaches close to home. In the mean time, it is crucial that funding and interest remain a top priority. Rest can happen when there is no longer a person diagnosed with breast cancer.

Preoccupying ourselves with worry is never the greatest ally in the prevention or management of disease. But, that is easier said than done. If you can arm yourself with the tools to focus on the things you can control and take necessary, actionable steps to curtail the development of untoward events, then that is half the battle. When you notice a change in your body from your normal, get it checked. Being aware of your family history can serve you well.

Knowing all of this, it is critical to balance living a full, meaningful life not overly burdened by fear (read here on the importance of resilience). And, while you are at it, eating well most of the time, regularly exercising, getting good sleep and reducing your stress whenever possible will yield the greatest dividends in staving off disease or optimally dealing with it.

Let October give you the nudge to be screened and have that conversation with your doctor.