Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How Nurses Can Help With Education & Prevention

Pink ribbon and stethoscope on pink background for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This is a time to focus on raising awareness and celebrating breast cancer survivors. Thanks to their role in patient care, it also marks an opportunity for nurses across the United States to educate their patients about the disease and the importance of early detection. 

Breast Cancer in America

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States, although it can be found in men as well. One in eight women, which is about 13% of the female population, will be diagnosed with some form of invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. Over the last two decades, the rate of cancer has decreased thanks largely to early diagnosis and treatment which have also decreased the mortality rate of the disease.

How Nurses Can Support Patient Education for Breast Cancer Prevention

As a nurse, you play a crucial role in helping to reduce your patient’s risk of breast cancer. With breast cancer, prevention and education are the best opportunities for early detection and life-saving treatment. Here are four ways you can support patients and help to reduce their risk.

1. Educating patients on the importance of self-examinations.

Although it is sometimes found after symptoms have appeared, many women with breast cancer often have no symptoms. Encouraging patients to become familiar with their bodies is essential for conducting self-examinations. These self-screenings help patients check for changes and potential symptoms of breast cancer. 

2. Encouraging a consistent, healthy diet and exercise routine.

Maintaining a healthy diet and routine physical fitness are important aspects of leading a healthier lifestyle. Dr. Uniqua Smith, Ph.D., MBA, RN, NE-BC and the Associate Director of Nursing Programs at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, recently shared how her clean eating and consistent exercise are what helped with her strength throughout multiple surgeries and months of chemotherapy after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. “People are amazed at my strength during treatment and I credit it to starting a healthy life before I was diagnosed,” she said. 

3. Recommending routine screenings

As a nurse, it’s important to be diligent with patients who are at increased risk of developing the disease, particularly women who have personal or family history of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that women who have an average risk of breast cancer – no personal or strong family history, a genetic mutation known to increase risk, or chest radiation therapy prior to 30 years of age – should begin annual screenings at 45. Early screenings are essential as the earlier breast cancer is identified the greater chance for a better outcome. It’s also important for nurses to be up to date on the latest recommendations for breast cancer screenings and other methods related to diagnosis and evaluation. 

4. Providing support and resources. 

Nurses can provide support to their patients before, during, and after a breast cancer diagnosis. In addition to connecting your patients with helpful resources and information, you can also provide emotional support, and help them communicate concerns, and ask important questions to their physicians.

CareerStaff’s Jean Leonetti Says “Get Checked”

CareerStaff’s own Jean Leonetti is a three-time cancer survivor who battled breast cancer a decade ago – and won. Jean’s cancer presented no symptoms, but her regular checkups due to her heightened risk were a big part of discovering something that might have otherwise been found too late. For this reason, Jean urges regular checkups for women both with and without a family history. She shared important advice for other women: “Get checked,” she said. “Always listen to your body, and always get your mammograms.” This advice applies not just during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but all year long.

If you’re interested in helping women and men where nurses and clinicians are most needed, CareerStaff can connect you with a facility that’s in need of a skilled professional like you. See our available opportunities here.

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