Every year in October, we are reminded that breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women over the course of their lifetime. During this one month dedicated to breast cancer awareness, everywhere we look there are pink ribbons, pink hats, pink socks, and multiple campaigns to support early detection and treatment. Every Breast Cancer Center stresses the importance of screening mammography, and the volume of screening increases – at least for a while. As a Breast Surgeon, I discuss the importance of screening and follow-up with my patients every day. As a breast cancer survivor, I know how lucky I am to have had my breast cancer diagnosed on a screening study, at a very early stage.
While early detection through screening does save lives, screening does not decrease the risk of developing breast cancer, and the challenge we face is that no specific cause can be identified for the vast majority of women, and men, who do develop breast cancer. It is important to note that only 5-10% of breast cancers can be attributed to inherited gene mutations.
If we are going to dramatically decrease the number of women who develop breast cancer, we need to support ongoing efforts to prevent the disease. We know that environmental factors can influence disease development; for example, we wear sunscreen to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. Frequently a patient in my care will ask me, “Is it something in the water?” I am compelled to reply, “Maybe.” We must work toward finding ways to prevent environmental causes of breast cancer.
That’s why I am proud to serve on the Board of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC). MBCC is dedicated to preventing environmental causes of breast cancer through community education, research advocacy, and changes to public policy. Through the award-winning Let’s Talk Prevention program, MBCC provides free community education brochures in eleven languages that communicate the importance of reducing exposure to common chemicals of concern and simple action steps for doing so. MBCC is also actively collaborating on three federally funded research studies involving PFAS exposure and has been a resounding voice on the importance of banning cancer-causing agents at State and Federal levels.
We all have heard about the importance of early detection. What we are lacking in many conversations about breast cancer is the importance of prevention. Your donation to MBCC shows your commitment to education, the environment and public health, and enables MBCC to work towards prevention of breast cancer.
Jill Oxley, MD, FACS
MBCC Board Member