Pink: The Colour of Breast Cancer Awareness

| Health and Wellness

Breast cancer awareness.

Pink: The Colour of Breast Cancer Awareness

For this month’s Colours Campaign article, pink was the clear choice: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and its well-known symbol is the pink ribbon. Supporters of breast cancer awareness and research have worn and shared the pink ribbon since it was introduced in the early 1990s, and it is instantly recognizable in many countries.

Breast cancer in Canada

Breast cancer continues to have a major impact on women in Canada: it is the most common type of cancer in women (not including non-melanoma skin cancers), accounting for one-quarter of cancer cases. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, one in eight women will develop breast cancer, and one in 33 will die from it. An estimated 27,400 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Canada each year, as well as 240 men. (Less than 1% of breast cancer cases are diagnosed in men.)

Researchers and health professionals have gained much knowledge about breast cancer risk factors, screening, diagnosis and treatment over time. Canadian women’s breast cancer death rate peaked in the mid-1980s, and since then it has fallen by an estimated 48%, thanks to increased disease awareness, improved screening, earlier cancer detection and more treatment options.

In addition, a study by the Canadian Cancer Society found that about 28% of breast cancer cases in women can be prevented through healthy living (such as being active, eating well and not smoking) and policies that protect Canadians’ health.

With continued research, the hope is that the prognosis for breast cancer patients will only keep getting better.

Risk factors

Breast cancer has a range of risk factors, listed below. It’s best to discuss your individual risk factors, and any steps you can take to reduce your risk of cancer, with your physician.

  • Family history of breast cancer and other types of cancer
  • Mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 (detectable through a blood test)
  • Dense breasts (determined by a mammogram)
  • Reproductive history (early menarche, late menopause, and late or no pregnancies are each linked to higher breast cancer risk)
  • Certain rare inherited conditions
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry (BRCA gene mutations are more common among Ashkenazi women)
  • Certain gene mutations other than BRCA mutations
  • Chest, neck or armpit exposure to ionizing radiation (for example, radiation therapy treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma)
  • Oral contraceptives (the pill) containing both estrogen and progesterone, especially if used for 10 years or more
  • Hormone replacement therapy for five years or more
  • Atypical hyperplasia (non-cancerous abnormal cells in breast tissue)
  • Obesity (having more fat tissue can raise estrogen levels, increasing the risk of breast cancer)
  • Alcohol consumption (alcohol may increase estrogen levels and lower certain protective nutrients)
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Tall height (research has shown that tall women have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer after menopause)

Breast cancer screening

Breast cancer screening involves getting a mammogram, which is a low-dose breast X-ray. The Canadian Cancer Society’s recommendations for screening mammography are as follows:

Ages 40–49: Talk to your doctor about your breast cancer risk and the benefits and limitations of mammograms.

Ages 50–74: Have a mammogram every two years.

Ages 75+: Discuss with your doctor whether you should have a mammogram.

If an individual has signs or symptoms of breast cancer, or if screening mammography or a clinical breast exam finds potential abnormalities, a diagnostic mammogram is performed. Physicians may also use ultrasound or a biopsy to make a diagnosis.

The Canadian Cancer Society provides more helpful details about breast cancer screening, including what it’s like to have a mammogram, as well as reliable information about breast cancer: different types, stages and grades, treatment options and support.

We encourage you to check out their resources, and to talk to your physician about risk factors and routine screening.

We’re nearing the end of our Colours Campaign series. Missed any articles? Read the rainbow:

Red: The Colour with Heart

Orange: The Colour That Makes Us Want to Dance

Yellow: The Colour of Happiness

Green: The Colour of Growth and Vitality

Purple: The Colour of Creativity

White: Fall: The Season for Fresh Starts