It's time to think pink
Every year in the UK, 50,000 people, including about 300 men, are diagnosed with breast cancer, making it our most common form of cancer.
"Every ten minutes, someone is diagnosed in the UK," says Geri Halliwell, who has been a patron for charity Breast Cancer Care for 12 years.
The Spice Girl is giving her backing to the annual awareness month, which raises money for breast cancer charities as well as helping spread awareness of the disease.
With the pink ribbon as its emblem, the month has come to mean a lot to people who have breast cancer, and their family and friends.
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"Dress pink, eat pink, party pink and think pink," says Geri.
But as well as raising money with a pink fashion show or tea party, it is also a time to acquaint yourself with some facts.
Though breast cancer is common, survival rates are better than ever.
About 11,500 people die from the disease each year. But since the Eighties, breast cancer death rates have fallen by more than a third, and currently 82 per cent of people survive beyond five years.
This is testament to the effectiveness of campaigns such as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Increased awareness means people are being diagnosed earlier, plus advancements in treatments have helped.
However, director of services at Breast Cancer Care Diana Jupp points out that UK survival rates lag behind those of other European countries, because UK women are still more likely to delay seeing a doctor about changes in their breast.
"Presenting late impacts on the outcome of their treatment, so it's really essential we get the message across so women get themselves checked quickly," says Diana.
"Nine times out of ten, it isn't cancer, but it's always best to get it checked."
So, despite the success of Breast Cancer Awareness Month so far, there is still a lot of work to be done. Here is a look at the key issues surrounding breast cancer today.
If you thought breast cancer only occurred in people with a family history of the disease, think again – it can happen to anyone, male or female.
While scientists have now identified genes that predispose people to breast cancer (families with high rates can be screened), and having more than one close relative diagnosed may increase your own risk, charities point out that less than 10 per cent of cases will run in families.
More often than not, the exact reasons one person develops cancer and another doesn't can't be pinpointed, but research has found evidence that certain factors may increase the likelihood.
One recent study found that a poor diet early in life may be a factor, and obesity in adulthood is also thought to be a potential link.
Those who drink more alcohol may also be at higher risk, and Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and how much oestrogen you have been exposed to over your lifetime, are also cited.
Ms Jupp says research is still ongoing.
"We're still not that much nearer to understanding what causes it," she says.
However, age is one of the biggest known risk factors, with some 80 per cent of breast cancers occurring in women over the age of 50.
Still, that means about 20 per cent of diagnoses are for people under 50, which amounts to about 9,000 people every year.
Breast cancer is not just a life or death issue – for the majority of people diagnosed, a key challenge is coping with the disease, and a lot of charity funding goes towards helping with this.
After the initial shock of being diagnosed, a person will need to adapt to living with cancer. On top of dealing with the illness and, often very draining treatment, normal life – and all the stresses and commitments that come with it – goes on.
Luckily, help is out there.
Friends and family often offer to help with childcare, and this can be a real lifeline.
Rachel Rawson, senior clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, says: "It's always a good idea to take up offers of help, and look into other childcare options in your area."
The charity runs a free helpline, which people can call at any time for support and advice on any issues relating to their illness, whether that be worries about surgery or practical dilemmas, such as how to tell their children or employers.
"Money can be a big worry. We spend a lot of time signposting people to the relevant avenues for support, whether that's transport to hospital or income support," says Rachel.
There are also specialist support forums, including for the younger women who have breast cancer.
Clinical Nurse Specialist Jackie Harris says that because younger women are the minority of breast cancer patients, they often find it hard to meet anyone of a similar age going through the same thing.
"The Younger Women's Forums bring these women together from all over the country," she says.
"They gain so much support from each other, share experiences, and remain firm friends afterwards."
Living with secondaries
Breast Cancer Care is using this year's awareness month to highlight secondary breast cancer, with Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day taking place on Saturday.
This is when breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body – commonly lymph nodes, lungs, liver, bones and brain. About 36,000 women and men are currently living with secondary breast cancer, and although it can be treated, it cannot be cured.
But Diana points out that if a person has a secondary breast cancer in the bones, for example, they could still live with it for another ten years.
"But you've got a ticking clock over you and you don't know how long you've got," she says.
The charity is currently fighting for more support for people living with secondary breast cancer. They have identified a need for more access to specialist nurses, information and palliative care.
How do I check my breasts?
Lumps and bumps don't automatically mean cancer, but if you get into the habit of checking your breasts regularly, you will know what is normal for you and be able to spot changes.
All parts of the breasts should be checked, including the armpits and up to the collarbone.
Changes you should look out for include:
Changes in size or shape.
Changes in skin texture, such as puckering or dimpling.
A lump or thickening of breast tissue.
Redness or a rash on the skin or around the nipple.
Discharge from one or both nipples.
Constant pain in the breast or armpit.
Swelling in the armpit or around the collarbone.
Spotting these signs may not mean you have cancer, but seeing your GP quickly is crucial. He or she will be able to put your mind at rest, or refer you for further tests if needed.
For support and information about breast cancer, visit www.breast cancercare. org.uk or call Breast Cancer Care's free helpline on 0808 8006000.