October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Bobbie Estioko, a 67-year-old breast cancer survivor, remembers learning of her diagnosis 13 years ago. She was having a routine mammogram when her doctors found a small lump that turned out to be breast cancer. Breast Cancer Awareness Month was created over 25 years ago to educate and empower women to take charge of their own breast health, according to the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month website.

Estioko, who is now in remission, encourages women to have regular breast examinations for early detection.

“I’m all for women getting tested yearly, as soon as they can,” says Estioko.

While Estioko describes her first thoughts of being diagnosed as terrifying, she says she could not have endured without a sense of humor.

“You can go nuts thinking about it, but if you have good friends and they see that you just want to laugh, it will help you out,” Estioko says.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that other than non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, in a lifetime, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Most advanced cases of breast cancer occur in women over 50, but other factors may influence a person’s chances of getting the disease, such as having a family history or certain genetic abnormalities.

“If there is a family history, there are different gene markers that they can test you for that will tell you if you have the propensity to get the same kind of breast cancer that your mom, or your aunt, or your grandma had,” says Victoria Aberbook, a nursing instructor at Santa Monica College.

There are many treatments available for breast cancer, but a person’s treatment depends on the cancer type and stage at diagnosis. The stages range from zero to four, with four being the most advanced. Early detection is of utmost importance for an optimal prognosis.

“It is no longer considered to be a breast self-exam that women should do, but having breast awareness,” says Aberbook. “A woman should see a doctor if there are changes such as lumps, dimpling, discoloration, or anything else out of the norm.”

Aberbook also encourages women with a family history of breast cancer to be even more proactive.

“They don’t recommend a mammogram until age 40,” says Aberbook. “Before age 40, it’s breast awareness. If they have a strong history, at age 30 they recommend the mammogram and the MRI, as well as genetic testing.”

Susan G. Komen for the Cure works to assist uninsured and underinsured women and men, particularly under age 40, who have symptoms of breast cancer and are facing barriers to accessing health care.

“We want to maintain a grassroots appeal and approach,” says Mark Pilon, executive director of Komen’s Los Angeles affiliate. “We want to keep connected to our own community.”

The foundation offers suggestions for women to lower their chances of breast cancer.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by controlling weight, exercising regularly, eating nutritious food, limiting alcohol consumption, not smoking, and controlling emotional health may all contribute to reducing chances.

“We donate 75 percent of all of our fundraising to local organizations to provide free screenings and mammograms to people who may not otherwise be able to get tested,” says Pilon. “The other 25 percent goes to the national organization for research.”

The American Cancer Society sponsors the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. Many of these walks are held throughout the year, and there are two upcoming walks in Los Angeles.

The first local walk will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 10 at the Los Angeles State Historic Park, with registration at 5 p.m. and the event at 6 p.m.

Another walk will be held on Saturday, Oct. 20 at Los Angeles Southwest College, with registration at 8 a.m. and the event at 9 a.m.

For more information on these walks, visit makingstrides.acsevents.org.