October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here are some important things to know: this year, more than 1.5 million around the world will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and hundreds of thousands will die. We talked with Katy Sawyer, Executive Director of the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation, to learn more...

What do women need to know about breast cancer?
More than 75% of women with breast cancer have no family history of the disease and less than 10% have a known gene mutation that increases risk. Early diagnosis saves lives, and while mammograms are not perfect, they are the best tool we currently have for detection.​ In consultation with your health care provider, get regular breast screenings beginning at the best age for you, typically in your 40s but earlier if you have a family history. Mammograms happen one day a year, but women have the other 364 days to be familiar with how their bodies normally look and feel. If something doesn't seem right, talk to your doctor, no matter when your next mammogram is scheduled.

How can families with breast cancer best talk about it?
Share what you know, especially if there is a history of breast cancer in your family. If you don't know much about your family health history, ask someone who might know. There are great resources available to help you get the conversation started, like https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/FHH/html/index.html. Genetic testing is now more affordable, and often covered by insurance, and can help women and men make informed decisions about their health. Knowledge is power and sharing your story with your family, friends and loved ones in an age appropriate manner is key.

What’s the best way to support someone struggling with breast cancer?
Reach out and let the person know that you’re thinking about them. It makes a difference​. But also remember that it’s not about you. If you ​reach out and don't hear back, give people their space but don't give up.​ Process your own feelings beforehand​, tak​ing​ time to acknowledge and cope with your own emotions about the diagnosis before you ​reach out​. This way, you can keep the focus on your friend or loved one. ​And don’t be afraid to talk ​to someone. It is ​always ​better to say, “I don’t know what to say” than to stop calling or visiting out of fear. ​If you value a relationship, keep making the effort and offer ​practical, specific ways you can ​help​ support​ their journey. ​​​

If you could offer one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed, what would that be?
Be your own health advocate and build your support system. If you don't get satisfactory answers from your provider, get a second opinion. Good providers welcome a second opinion. Find someone to be your appointment buddy; they can listen, take notes, and help think of questions you may not be able to process​. You are not alone as you cope with your cancer diagnosis and treatment. Find support from family, friends, and community resources to manage emotional, practical, and financial issues. VBCF can help identify these resources for Virginians; in other states, you might check with your local health department for help. Anyone can check out our website at www.vbcf.org to access our newly diagnosed packet and many other breast cancer basics and community resources.

What’s the most important thing a woman can do to decrease her chances of developing breast cancer?
The biggest risk factor for breast cancer is being born a female. So while there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, you can significantly reduce your risk by following a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, healthy eating, no smoking, and limiting alcohol use. And if something​ feels wrong, go see your health care provider. If your concerns are dismissed, get a second opinion. Know your body and trust your instincts.

Explore Legacy.com's coverage of Breast Cancer Awareness month, including memorial sites for those lost to breast cancer and a national book of condolence.
Lost a parent or child to breast cancer? Connect with others who've lost a loved one here.