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Breast cancer is not a 'pretty pink disease'

There are currently more than four million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer for women.

Why it matters

Breast cancer death rates have declined by 43% since the late 1980’s due to early screenings, increased awareness and better treatments, according to the American Cancer Society.

Better treatments are available thanks to large-scale clinical trials said Dr. Rebecca Shatsky with UC San Diego’s breast medical oncology department.


“These clinical trials have shown us that people can have less-toxic therapies for early-stage breast cancer. And then, on the same token women with advanced or metastatic stage 4 breast cancer, our studies show that women are now living longer,” Shatsky said.

By the numbers

"This is not a pretty pink disease. This is a nasty struggle that a lot of women go through, 1 in 8. So to me, Breast Cancer Awareness Month means courage and fighting,” said Rebecca Dabbs, a breast cancer survivor who also works for the American Cancer Society.

Shatsky said the average age of women being diagnosed with breast cancer is 61, but recently there has been an increase in younger women being diagnosed.

“Latina women — there was just a recent article — are diagnosed with breast cancer on average, seven years earlier than their Caucasian counterparts," Shatsky said. "We know that African American women are also more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer in their 40s as opposed to their 50s and 60s.”

Closer look

Earlier this year, the United States Preventive Services Task Force changed its recommendation that all women at age 40, not 50, get a breast cancer screening with a mammogram every other year.


With any breast skin changes, not just lumps, Shatsky recommends contacting your primary care doctor.

“If there's new skin thickening or changes to the nipple, sometimes breast tumors can actually pull the nipple into the breast where it wasn't before, and that's called nipple retraction and if that happens all the sudden, that's also pretty concerning for breast cancer,” Shatsky said. "And then new redness in the breasts. Also lumps that you could feel in the axilla. So not just the breast sometimes, that's the first thing that people notice.”

Looking ahead

There is a state-run program called Every Woman Counts that helps uninsured or low-income patients get free mammograms. The state also has a Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program that can help pay for breast cancer treatment.

On Sunday, Oct. 15, the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk will take place in Balboa Park. Go to to sign up.