October's National Health Observances Targeted for Promoting Women's Health at Menopause

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Written by Menopause Minute® Editors

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) and it is difficult to believe it is merely a coincidence that World Menopause Day falls right smack in the middle of it!  Every year, the International Menopause Society designates October 18th to promote menopause education and challenge women to use this day to have an important conversation with their doctors. That conversation should encompass steps to take charge of your health, including how to take advantage of early detection of breast cancer.

Since the inception of the NBCAM program in 1985, mammography rates have more than doubled for women age 50 and older and breast cancer deaths have declined. But, there are still women who do not take advantage of early detection at all and others who do not get screening mammograms and clinical breast exams at regular intervals.

  • Women age 65 and older are less likely to get mammograms than younger women, even though breast cancer risk increases with age.
  • Hispanic women have fewer mammograms than Caucasian women and African women.
  • Women below poverty level are less likely than woman at higher incomes to have had a mammogram within the past two years.
  • Mammography use has increased for all groups except American Indians and Alaska Natives.

“If all women age 40 and older took advantage of early detection methods –mammography plus clinical breast exam – breast cancer death rates would drop much further, up to 30 percent,” says Red Hot Mamas Founder and President, Karen Giblin.

It is very fitting that World Menopause Day coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Although breast cancer risk increases with age, it is not specifically affected by menopause. Nearly one half of all breast cancer cases occur in women aged 65 years and older. The average age of the onset of menopause is around age 51; give or take 5 years.

And, of course, with menopause usually comes some form of a hot flash firestorm, along with the other 7 Menopausal Dwarfs. Currently, hormone therapy (HT) is the most effective way to relieve moderate to severe menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness, not to mention the great improvement it has on quality of life for many women.

The most widely discussed serious adverse effect of HT is breast cancer. In fact, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study has shown that the risk of breast cancer increases with use of EPT (not to be confused with estrogen-only therapy), beyond 5 years. But, most women who start HT to quell hot flash flames are relieved of their symptoms and can taper off well before breast cancer risk increases.

Every woman should have a breast exam and mammogram prior to starting HT and at regular intervals thereafter. “The key to mammography screening is that it be done routinely – once is not enough,” says Giblin. “Women need to know their personal health risks, and women need to discuss their options with their doctors, including those of nutrition, exercise and hormone therapy.”

For World Menopause Day this year, of course remember your Important Tests at Menopause. Make a note to have the important discussion with your doctor about your health at menopause, especially about your annual mammogram beginning at age 40 (in the absence of unusual findings) and before initiating HT.

For more information:
International Menopause Society – World Menopause Day
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
North American Menopause Society