Emmy Award winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus made it perfectly clear by saying no one – not even celebrities – are immune from breast cancer.
The “One in eight women get breast cancer,” the 56-year-old wrote on social media just a few days before Breast Cancer Awareness month started on October 1. “Today, I’m the one.”
While the Veep and Seinfeld star gave no details about her prognosis, this much is clear: there will be 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women in the United States this year, according to an American Cancer Society (ACS) estimate. The disease is expected to kill 40,610 women, while 63,410 cases of carcinoma in situ – abnormal cells that may be an early form of cancer – will be diagnosed this year, according to the ACS. About 2,000 men will also be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in women, trailing only lung cancer. About one in every eight women living in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime and about 1 in 37 (2.7 percent) will die from the disease, according to the ACS.
Non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic African-American have increased breast cancer incidence and mortality than other racial and ethnic groups. While African-American women had a slightly lower incidence rate than Caucasians, African-American women had a 42 percent higher chance of dying from breast cancer than whites between 2011-2015.
Breast cancer has at least five subtypes, but breast cancer affects all women, regardless of race, ethnicity, and where they live. The widest differences in breast cancer mortality between Caucasians and African-Americans are in Mississippi, Louisiana, Wisconsin and New Mexico, while the narrowest gaps are in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Delaware, Iowa and Minnesota, The New York Times reported.
“These racial disparities are not inevitable,” said Carol E. DeSantis, director of breast and gynecological cancer surveillance at the ACS, told the newspaper. “Access to care, economic status, getting high quality treatment early, and beginning and completing chemotherapy are all factors.”
However, the key to surviving breast cancer, which occurs when malignant cancer cells form in breast tissues, is to detect it early.
“The goal of screening is to find cancers early while the disease is most treatable and the outcome is best,” Dr. Karen Hou, a breast radiologist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in west suburban Winfield, Illinois, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Being proactive gives you the best chance of staying well.”
Advances in technology are at the forefront of detecting breast cancer in its early stages and ultimately causing it to go into remission.
The new technologies include 3D mammography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) and automated whole breast ultrasounds. A 3D mammography takes 15 to 20 low-dose x-ray images of the breast tissue instead of a single image, allowing doctors to examine breast tissue in one-millimeter-thick slices to best show signs of cancer that normal dense tissue can mask.
While 3D images take about the same amount of time as the more common 2D mammogram, they may not be detailed enough for doctors to spot cancerous cells, especially in women who have dense breasts. Physicians also are using an automated breast ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves and produces a 3D image of the entire breast, in addition to administering a regular mammogram.
“You want to be able to detect the disease before it presents itself clinically with symptoms,” Dr. David Schacht, section chief for breast imaging at the University of Chicago, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
The University of Chicago is also studying if magnetic resonance imaging could provide doctors with even better pictures in which to spot breast cancer, though the study’s results won’t be ready until at least 2019, Schacht said.
Technology has made a difference. The number of deaths caused by breast cancer fell 39 percent between 1989-2015, during which the lives of about 322,600 women with breast cancer were saved due to improved technology, detection, and treatments.
The U.S. had more than 3.5 million women living with breast cancer as of January 2016, according to the ACS.
While the most frequent sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass, the ACS urges women to also check for the following symptoms:
Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
Skin irritation or dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
Breast or nipple pain
Nipple retraction (turning inward)
Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
Nipple discharge (other than breast milk), as sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph
The Trump Administration is also urging women to check for symptoms before it’s too late. The White House glowed pink overnight on October 1 to show its support of Breast Cancer Awareness month – a tradition that was started by then First Lady Laura Bush in 2008.
“During October, we raise awareness and encourage people to take steps to reduce their risk of breast cancer,” First Lady Melania Trump said in a statement. “I encourage all women to talk to their health care providers about mammograms and other methods of early detection and what can be done to reduce that risk.”