An estimated 339,250 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. And an even larger number of men and women will feel their lives rocked by the diagnoses. Countless people will stand with their mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters, and friends in the battle against breast cancer. Many will win, but about 43,250 will lose their lives in 2022.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month; yearly, pink ribbons remind us that this disease does not affect women alone. Though 70 to 100 times less prevalent in men, the American Cancer Society estimates 2,710 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Besides the drastic effects on those diagnosed, the disease also has the power to halt dreams, stall careers, and plunder the lives of patients and their loved ones.
It forces change. It can cause those who were once independent to begin relying on others. Responsibilities will change. Simple chores may become impossible. Children may suddenly need to become caregivers for a parent. A partner may be required to take on additional work, and the list goes on. These adjustments will affect everyone differently, but they will rarely be without stress.
Thousands of clinicians, nonprofit employees, and volunteers work tirelessly throughout the year to cut through the hopelessness and fear associated with this disease. Because of their hard work, the pink ribbon is both a warning and a pledge: anyone could face the impact of breast cancer, but no one is alone in the battle. It is a call for awareness surrounding the symptoms and risk factors, a reminder of the importance of regular screenings and self-checks, and a promise of community in the fight for survival.
Early screenings and improved treatment plans have led to a 1% drop in death rates. While improvement is still to be made, the decrease is cause for celebration and evidence of the benefit of continued study. The more we know about the disease, the more prepared we will be to fight it. The same is true for individual cases. Because the effects differ from patient to patient, imaging, scans, and blood tests provide essential data that guide management.
Mammography is the most common imaging process conducted for breast cancer screenings. Such screenings should be administered annually as part of an annual wellness check. However, it is not readily available in acute care settings. General practitioners or emergency department (ED) clinicians treating patients who present with breast complaints may instead have ready access to point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS). In such cases, POCUS is a useful tool for investigating the pathology.
Sonography can effectively diagnose benign ailments such as skin and soft tissue infections (SSTIs), lactating adenomas, and mastitis. Delivering a negative breast cancer diagnosis will relieve patient anxiety and guide noninvasive management procedures for these benign conditions.
Unfortunately, screening of any type can miss the earliest signs of breast cancer, and a negative image doesn’t free patients from the threat of malignancy. Patients should conduct regular self-exams to familiarize themselves with their breasts’ typical look and feel. This awareness is beneficial as it could increase the likelihood of noticing abnormalities such as new lumps, irritation, nipple inversion, or thickening of the breast skin. Though not definite signs of malignancy, these changes should be discussed with a doctor and evaluated further.
Everyone has a unique experience with cancer. Different lifestyles and health factors require different approaches to screenings, diagnoses, and management. It’s not a disease that can be prevented because womanhood and age are the most prominent risk factors. Breast Cancer Awareness month is an opportunity for everyone to receive education on the importance of screenings, the options available post-diagnosis, and the communities working to crush the fear caused by the disease.
Learn more about how you can prepare for the POCUS takeover! Visit our POCUS Education Resource page.