Breast cancer can be detected early and treated effectively.  This is the message PAHO is promoting throughout the month of October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  

In the Americas, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women.  An estimated 400,000 women were newly diagnosed and more than 92,000 women died from breast cancer in the Americas in 2010.  This is expected to increase 46% in the Americas by 2030, if current trends continue.

While the causes of breast cancer remain largely unknown, risk factors include family history of breast cancer, early age at menarche and late age at first childbirth, hormone use, obesity, and alcohol.  Protective factors include breastfeeding, physical activity, late menarche, early pregnancy, parity, and early menopause.

While the causes of breast cancer remain largely unknown, risk factors include family history of breast cancer, early age at menarche and late age at first childbirth, hormone use, obesity, and alcohol.  Protective factors include breastfeeding, physical activity, late menarche, early pregnancy, parity, and early menopause.

Awareness, early detection, accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment are the currently available strategies to address breast cancer. Organized screening programs with mammography have led to earlier diagnosis, and coupled with effective treatment, led to reductions in breast cancer mortality in high income countries. In limited resource settings, there are many challenges in implementing such effective organized screening programs. It is still inconclusive whether population based programs using breast self exam and clinical breast exam reduce mortality rates, though these can be effective strategies to raise awareness and prompt women to seek early medical attention.

For women diagnosed with breast cancer, palliative care can reduce pain and suffering. Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families, and may also positively influence the course of illness. It can meet the needs of women requiring relief from the symptoms of breast cancer, as well as their needs for psychosocial, spiritual and supportive care. Palliative care can also offer a support system to help families cope.

PAHO is working with its Member States and partner organizations, through the Women's Cancer Initiative to mobilize all sectors of society and support countries in the following areas:

  1. To advocate for women´s cancers to be high in the public health agenda of countries;
  2. To educate, inform and empower women to seek early preventive health care;
  3. To ensure that services are available, affordable and accessible for women's cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment, and palliative care; and
  4. To engage in partnerships with all constituencies active in the field of women's health to improve the situation for women's cancers in the Region.

As part of PAHO's advocacy efforts, PAHO led a side event during the United Nations General Assembly, with high level officials to mobilize multi-stakeholder support for women's cancers.  For more information view the video message from  Dr. Carissa Etienne, Director of PAHO/WHO regarding the Women's Cancer Initiative.