October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While breast cancer is important to discuss year round, October is an opportunity for women to consider their breast health. Did you know that breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the United States (after skin cancer)? About one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. Invasive breast cancer refers to cancer that has spread from where it began in the breast to the normal tissue around it.
For those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing treatment, support resources are available. It may be helpful to join a cancer support group to connect with others with similar experiences, share concerns and fears, and access support and resources needed to face and fight breast cancer. The Charles B. Wang Community Health Center offers a monthly breast cancer support group for Chinese-speaking women with breast cancer.
Among the many stories from the support group’s members is a story of Ms. Chu, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her right breast, found after a routine mammogram. She had surgery to remove the right breast. Due to a chance of her breast cancer reoccurring, Ms. Chu was faced with many different treatment options following surgery. Feeling weak and fearful of choosing the wrong treatment, she decided to refuse further treatment. Her son and her doctor encouraged her to join the support group.
Ms. Chu attended her first support group session uncertain of what to expect. During the session, she was able to express to the women in the group that she felt she did not have time to fully process her breast cancer diagnosis before surgery. She shared that she had felt overwhelmed about making a decision about pursuing further treatment and scared to make the wrong decision. At the same time, she also came to the support group feeling regretful of her decision to refuse treatment. During the support group, the other members of the group encouraged her to weigh her options, seek a second opinion, and reassured her that she can change her mind afterwards. Through the support of the group, family, and friends, Ms. Chu found the confidence to move forward and scheduled a consultation with an oncologist. She believes with this new set of information, she will be able to pursue a course of recommended treatment that she is comfortable with.
More information and resources on breast cancer
There are screening tests available that can detect breast cancer early. Women aged 40 or older should speak with their healthcare provider about when they should begin screening for breast cancer. Mammograms and clinical breast exams can detect abnormalities or changes in a woman’s breasts before she notices any symptoms. All women are encouraged to be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and consult a healthcare provider if she notices any changes.
Many factors can increase a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer, such as having a history of breast cancer in her family, older age, weight gain, or the use of certain hormone replacement therapies after menopause. Talk to your doctor about your risk for breast cancer and what you can do to reduce your risk. Aside from getting regular screenings for breast cancer, there are some things women can do to reduce their risk for breast cancer. Maintain a healthy weight especially after menopause through exercise and healthy eating. Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink. Consider breastfeeding your child.
Those without health insurance and low income may qualify for programs that offer free or low cost breast cancer screenings and follow up testing. To learn more about breast cancer screenings, please call (212) 966-0228.
For women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, the Health Center welcomes you to join its monthly breast cancer support group. Support groups are led in Cantonese and meet monthly at the Health Center’s Manhattan location on 268 Canal Street. For questions or to register, call (212) 941-2233 extension 2533.
Read and share our bilingual materials on breast cancer prevention and care here.
Written by Esther Kim, MPH, and Anna Xing.
Esther Kim is the women’s health program manager at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. She received her master of public health degree from Columbia University. Anna Xing is a program coordinator at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. She received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Baruch College.