Have you heard of the silent killer, who often goes undetected and kills 458,400 persons a year worldwide? Its name is breast cancer. It is the most common cancer in women, both in developing and developed countries and it shows no signs of stopping. In fact, it keeps growing worldwide at a 1.5% annual rate (5% in developing countries). Every year 1.3 billion new cases are diagnosed, mostly in developed countries, but developing countries face higher mortality rates form this disease. In developing countries 268,900 people die every year of this disease.

In Mexico, breast cancer constitutes the second mortality cause on women from 30 to 54 years of age, and it is the first mortality cause by malignant tumors in women.  The National Institute of Oncology (INCAN) states that 15 Mexican women die every day of this disease and between 18,000 and 20,000 cases are diagnosed annually. The causes of breast cancer are undetermined, but some risk factors include age, family history of breast cancer, early menstruation, late menopause, first pregnancy after age 30, use of oral contraceptives and hormone therapy, and obesity after menopause.

While the causes of breast cancer are still unclear, most of the deaths from this disease can be avoided. The best strategies to prevent death from breast cancer are early detection and opportune treatment. On the other hand, if detected too late there is little chance for a cure and often only palliative care can be offered. Sadly, in Mexico, as in most developing countries, most cancers are detected on their latest stages. In order to reverse this trend, the World Health Organization, alongside many institutions and governments worldwide, is promoting comprehensive programs to control breast cancer. October has been named Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the 19 of this month has been declared International Day against Breast Cancer. During this month many institutions are implementing awareness campaigns to promote detection by teaching the proper procedures for breast self-exams and incentivizing women to get mammograms.

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