Did you know genes are the bits of DNA that give our cells their marching orders? (Think Beyoncé getting us all in formation.) They make up who we are at our most basic cellular level. And the billions of cells we’re born with play an incredibly important role in our health.
When it comes to our bodies, genes run the show, telling our cells how to create the various proteins that keep us going. It’s a huge job, one that requires all our 20,000 to 25,000 genes working in harmony to give our bodies the orders that help keep us healthy.
We inherit each of our genes directly from our parents – two copies of every gene, one passed on from each of our parents. Most genes are exactly the same from person to person, but a small fraction – less than 1 percent of those thousands of genes – have slight differences. It might not sound like much, but it’s those small DNA differences that give each of us (unless you’re an identical twin like Tia and Tamera) our unique set of physical features. She get it from her mama and her dad.
Understanding Genetics is Important…
When your family history indicates a pattern
A family history of cancer may mean there’s an underlying genetic cause. Once you understand how genes and mutations work, you’re better equipped to work through your family history—and better equipped for conversations with your healthcare provider or a genetic counselor.
When you’re curious or you want to fill in the gaps
A complete family history means collecting three generations of health history– yours, your parents’, and your grandparents’. And sis, we get it- trust us. Though it may not always be possible, understanding your own genetic makeup can help you—and your healthcare provider—work backward to fill in the gaps. And even if you’re simply curious about your own health, understanding the basics of genetics is a proactive way to get a better overall view.
In 2019, more than 300,000 women received a breast cancer diagnosis. About 50,000 of these women learned that they had the earliest form of breast cancer, Ductal Carcinoma in Situ, DCIS for short. DCIS affects women of every age, but it can be confusing to understand and treat. Bright Pink called in expert Dr. Swati Kulkarni to tell us more about this type of breast cancer, from prevention, to diagnosis to treatment. You can also check out her Facebook Live conversation here.
What is DCIS* -Do I have cancer?
Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) is made up of abnormal cells that are enclosed in the milk ducts of the breast. DCIS cells grow faster than normal cells, but they lack one of the key hallmarks of cancer- the ability to invade other tissues.
Over time, however, DCIS can turn into invasive cancer, leaving the milk ducts and spreading to other tissues. That is why it is important to treat DCIS – to prevent a future case of invasive breast cancer.
What are the risk factors for DCIS? How can I reduce my risk?
In general, women with DCIS do not have any symptoms. Providers typically discover DCIS through a screening mammogram, which can detect microcalcifications in the breast. These calcium deposits are only visible on mammography, and this imaging can provide an estimate for how much of the breast contains DCIS. An MRI can sometimes help to determine the extent of DCIS, but it can also overestimate the amount DCIS leading to more extensive surgery.
After finding microcalcifications, health providers will confirm that DCIS is present. The best way to confirm a diagnosis of DCIS is by performing a mammogram guided core needle biopsy. The provider will remove several small pieces of tissue from the breast and analyze them under a microscope to detect abnormal cells.
If DCIS is present, a pathologist will typically categorize the DCIS into Low (grade 1), Intermediate (grade 2) or High grade (grade 3) based on how fast the cells are growing and on their appearance. They will also measure two proteins, the estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor. This information can be useful in guiding treatment.
I was just diagnosed with DCIS. What do I do now?
Learning you have DCIS can seem overwhelming, but don’t panic. DCIS is not life-threatening and not an emergency. If you have this diagnosis, the first important step is to make an appointment with a surgeon who specializes in breast surgery to learn about your options for treatment.
The main reason to treat DCIS is to prevent it from coming back or becoming invasive breast cancer. If we leave DCIS alone, up to half of patients will develop invasive breast cancer.
We don’t know for sure which patients will develop invasive breast cancer or when. To be absolutely safe, we recommend removing the DCIS surgically with some normal breast tissue around it. This type of procedure is called a lumpectomy, wide local excision, or partial mastectomy.
The extent of surgery recommended by your surgeon depends on the amount of DCIS present and the location of the DCIS in your breast. More surgery is not necessarily better and should be weighed against the risk of surgical complications and long-term side effects. Have an open and clear conversation with your breast surgeon about your diagnosis and any potential side-effects or complications from the surgery to decide on a plan that’s right for you.
How soon do I need to have surgery?
You do not need to have surgery immediately. Again, DCIS is not an emergency. DCIS is pre-invasive and cannot spread. We think that only about 50% of DCIS cases will become invasive and the abnormal cells and surrounding tissues have to undergo many changes over time to become invasive. For most patients, this series of changes takes many months or years. It is safe to weigh different treatment options and consider a second opinion.
Do I need to have radiation after my surgery?
Breast radiation after surgery can reduce the risk of DCIS coming back by 50%. It is important to meet with a radiation oncologist to discuss the risks and benefits of radiation treatments. Newer tests are becoming available that may help physicians and patients tailor radiation therapy based on molecular characteristics of the tumor.
Why is my doctor recommending Tamoxifen?
Taking a medication such as Tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor, which work to slow the growth of abnormal cells, can reduce of the DCIS coming back by 30%. An added benefit is that the medication can also prevent a new breast cancer on the other breast.
What are the chances of DCIS coming back? What kind of follow-up do I need?
The chance of DCIS coming back depends on a number of factors. Your age, whether you used radiation or a medication like Tamoxifen, and whether your provider removed the DCIS with enough normal tissue around it can all affect your chances of having the DCIS return. DCIS can come back many years later as DCIS or invasive cancer. You should continue to get screening mammograms every year to make sure you are still cancer-free.
What are we learning about DCIS and how to treat it?
We are learning that treatment for DCIS is not “one size fits all.” Some women may need no treatment. There are large clinical trials going on in Europe, Asia, and the United States that are trying to answer the question of whether some women can undergo active surveillance with breast imaging and completely avoid surgery for DCIS.
There are also trials to determine if medications alone can be used to treat DCIS. The best way to figure this out is for women with a new diagnosis of DCIS to consider participating in a clinical trial in the period of time before they undergo surgery. These trials are called Window of Opportunity Trials and are typically 2-6 weeks long. It is safe to participate in these trials. Delaying your surgery for a short time will have no impact on your outcome. The results of these studies may allow some women to avoid surgery in the future.
This group takes great care in weighing all the benefits, costs, and potential drawbacks of preventive actions before they present their final guidelines. When they say a screening or procedure is worthwhile, you can rest assured that there is plenty of evidence behind the statement.
That is why Bright Pink is excited to share the USPSTF’s recent update regarding BRCA mutations screening.
This week, the USPSTF announced that primary care providers should provide BRCA screening for women who a) have Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry or b) have a personal history of breast or ovarian cancer in addition to women who have a family history linked to breast and ovarian cancer.
Knowing ourselves and our risks empowers us to take important actions to improve our health. Mutations in the Breast Cancer genes greatly increase a woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer (up to 70%) and ovarian cancer (up to 50%). Women can manage and reduce these risks – but only if they know they have a BRCA mutation in the first place.
Thanks to years of research, we know that certain women are more at risk of having a BRCA mutation. In the past, medical providers mainly relied on a family history of breast, ovarian, or related cancers to screen women for these mutations.
We applaud this update to the guidelines, as it recognizes the importance of knowing yourself and the value of assessing your risk. Do you know your risk? It only takes 5 minutes to Assess Your Risk using our online tool. It’s an assessment approved by the National Society of Genetic Counselors that includes nationally recognized cancer screening criteria and other risk factors to help all women better understand their breast and ovarian cancer risk.
The USPSTF’s update could affect you. Share your Assess Your Risk results with your provider to start a conversation about your breast and ovarian health and how you can create a personalized action plan so you can live healthy. Already assessed your risk? Make sure your family history is up to date by filling out our Family Health History form. Share it with your family and your provider to remind them that knowledge is power.
You too can run with Team Bright Pink. 2018 Bank of American Chicago Marathon registration is now open!
This is why Tim runs.
This weekend, my pink beard and I will conquer the Chicago Marathon and, in just a few weeks, we’ll take on the famous New York City Marathon. Together, that’s 52.4375 miles.
Less than .17% of the U.S. population runs a marathon each year. And an even smaller group runs two. When people ask me, ‘why?’ I ask, ‘why not?’
I’ve watched too many women lose their livesto breast and ovarian cancer. Three of my wife’s aunts were diagnosed with these diseases at a young age and two passed away as a result. As a husband and father, I can’t help but want to shield other families from ever experiencing this pain.
Cue the pink beard.
As it turns out, BRCA gene mutations run in my wife’s family. And, while she doesn’t have a gene mutation, her sister does, giving her an up to 87% chance of developing breast cancer and an up to 54% chance of developing ovarian cancer in her lifetime. Burying our heads is not the answer.
The answer lies in taking action and living proactively. And when it comes to early detection and prevention, no one does it better than Bright Pink. When my sister-in-law underwent a risk-reducing mastectomy and oophorectomy, Bright Pink provided my family with unmatched resources and support.
So when I decided to run, Team Bright Pink was the obvious choice. I am proud to run in the name of prevention and early detection because those very things are the reason my sister-in-law is healthy today.
And this year, my wife, Laura joined me and tackled her first half-marathon as a member of Team Bright Pink.
If my small act of dyeing my beard and fundraising for Bright Pink can help ensure a brighter future for my family, every mile is well worth it.
For them, no distance is too far.
This is how I make a difference. For my family. For your family. For a brighter future.
Tim has completed 6 marathons for Bright Pink and raised over $30,000. Look for the dude with the pink beard and, while you’re at it, contribute to his New York Marathon fundraising efforts here.
This is Erin’s story. But, really, it could be anyone’s.
I remember signing up for Bright Pink’s Breast Health Reminders™ without giving it much thought. Let’s be honest, we all live on our phones so what’s one more text a month?
When that first message popped up, I spent a lot of time checking my body to make sure everything felt okay. It did. So I went on with my life. For the next few months, I would get my reminder from Bright Pink and spend some time feeling for anything abnormal. It became habit.
It would have been so easy for me to become complacent. I was 34 years old and, month after month, everything seemed fine. Until it wasn’t.
Then my August reminder came, and I found a lump.
Commence the mammograms, ultrasounds, surgery and eventual diagnosis. Luckily, we caught my breast cancer in its early stages and I was going to be okay.
My journey to okay started because of a text message. Had I not signed up for Breast Health Reminders, had I grown lazy and ignored them each month, my prognosis could have been much different.
That text truly saved my life.
This is my story but, really, it could be anyone’s story. The fact is, all women have at least a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime and, for those with a family history of the disease, the risk is even higher. But, there’s good news. All young women have the power to be powerful advocates for their own health and being proactive is the first step.
We know the odds. We know how high the stakes are. And, this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’m here to remind you that we have the power to do something about it by signing up for Bright Pink’s Breast Health Reminders today.
Who knew that reducing your risk for breast and ovarian cancer could be so delicious? Bright Pink team member Cavya does, and she’s sharing her mouth-watering recipes below!
Bright Pink Smoothie Bowl
This super tasty smoothie bowl is a breeze to whip together and will probably make your Instagram dreams come true. And if that’s not enough to sell you, nutrient-packed ingredients like berries, tropical fruit, and flax seeds can help you lower your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. What more could you want?
½ cup frozen strawberries
¼ cup frozen raspberries
½ cup greek yogurt
½ cup almond milk
½ cup mango chunks
2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tbsp ground flax seeds
¼ cup raspberries
Blend together frozen berries, greek yogurt and almond milk into a thick smoothie. Pour into a bowl and top with the remaining ingredients. Feel like a goddess of health and wellness.
Vegan Lentil Curry with Brown Rice
This quick and simple curry packs in tons of protein and flavor and is the perfect go-to for #MeatlessMondays. Consuming high amounts of red meat has been proven to increase your risk of breast cancer, so cutting down whenever possible is always a great idea. Plus, a ton of these ingredients are on our cancer fighting grocery list!
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp of fresh, minced ginger
1 jalapeño, diced with seeds removed (optional)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 dried red chili pepper (optional)
½ tsp turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp whole or ground cumin
1 tbsp curry powder
1 cup red lentils, rinsed thoroughly
1 can light coconut milk
2 tomatoes, diced
2 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
2 cups water
1 cup brown rice
Cook brown rice according to package directions. In a medium saucepan, saute onions, garlic, ginger and jalapeño in olive oil until soft. Add in spices (mustard seeds, dried chili, turmeric, cumin and curry powder) and let them toast for about 30 seconds. Add in diced tomato, coconut milk, water, salt, pepper and lentils, simmer for 30 minutes or until the lentils are soft and fully cooked. Add in baby spinach and stir. Serve over brown rice garnished with cilantro, a lime wedge, and a side of your favorite veggie.
We know you’ll love these delicious, risk-reducing recipes. If you try them out, make sure to post your finished product on Instagram and tag @BeBrightPink so we can ❤️️ your pic!
I first heard about Bright Pink in 2007, when my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She mentioned her symptoms to her doctor (urinary changes, extensive bloating and feeling full), and he sent her home with heartburn medication. Sadly, she passed away two years later when she was only 56.
Bright Pink had fallen off my radar in recent years, but I got reacquainted in October 2016 when my cousin was hosting a KEEP Collective event. She knew my passion for breast and ovarian cancer education and invited me to partner with her in an online party where some of the KEEP items would go to benefit Bright Pink. While she showcased the sparkly goods, I used Bright Pink’s educational materials to teach the women in the party about their health.
Reconnecting with Bright Pink last October pushed me to get really familiar with Bright Pink’s education resources, and I was impressed.
Bright Pink is doing a great job putting out ready-to-share, useful resources, and that’s something I wanted to support.
I’m an avid runner, so joining Team Bright Pink for the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon seemed like a natural next step!
After I made the decision to take on running and fundraising for Team Bright Pink, I decided to take the challenge one step further, and convince my friends to join me! Luckily, my friends don’t take much convincing! We all met each other through a running group, and running together is our sure-fire way to see each other. It’s our weekly therapy session and our excuse to travel together. I knew Kristin hadn’t done the Chicago Marathon yet, and I told her years ago I’d do it with her. I texted her and Nicole to see what they thought, and, by the end of the day, Renee and Diana had signed up too.
I have incredible friends. Even without having substantial ties to breast or ovarian cancer, or any awareness of Bright Pink, they jumped right in and pledged to fundraise. Just like that!
It isn’t always easy to stay motivated to train for our runs, and to be honest, we don’t do “motivation” very well. We’re great at complaining, whining, cussing and plotting how to get out of the next race. Despite that, we’re all running obsessed and will sign up for another race as soon as someone sends out a text.
I am so thrilled to be taking on this challenge with all my best friends for Bright Pink. I see it as my duty to educate my family and friends about ovarian cancer and listening to their bodies, so everyone has a better chance of an early diagnosis. Running the Chicago Marathon on Team Bright Pink is a way for all of us to spread Bright Pink’s life-saving message to even more women.
Are you inspired by Amy and her amazing friends? Join Team Bright Pink for the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, or one of many other races!
The New Year might mean plenty of things for you. Maybe this is the year you read more, the year you stick to your exercise routine, or the year you treat yourself. But one action you definitely have to take is scheduling your annual well-woman exam. This check-up is a major component in your breast and ovarian cancer prevention and early detection strategy.
Even though Bright Pink’s official Call Your Doctor Day isn’t until June, why not get a jumpstart to 2017 and begin maintaining your breast and ovarian health by calling this month? After the influx of December patients, January is pretty calm at your OB-GYN office, so you might see your doctor in a few days rather than a few weeks. Here are some tips for calling the office to set up your appointment:
Call closer to the beginning of the month. The end of the month gets hectic at the OB-GYN when birth control prescriptions tend to run out and patients need refills ASAP. Avoid getting crowded out by last-minute appointments and call early in the month.
Schedule your appointment around popular days and time slots. The most popular days to visit the OB-GYN are Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the most booked times (daily) are 9 a.m., 10 a.m., and 2 p.m. Unless you need to see your doctor at these times, be flexible with the receptionist.
Prepare for your visit. Another part of the new year for you might include insurance turnover, so make sure you have your updated info for the receptionist when you arrive (and arrive early!). To calm your nerves for the visit, print out and bring a copy of “5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor” so you know what to talk about. You can also discuss the results from Bright Pink’s Assess Your Risk tool if you take the quiz beforehand.
It takes the same amount of time to call your doctor as it does to brush your teeth — so do both today! (Just not at the same time.)
Bright Pink is dedicated to empowering young women to have life-saving conversations with their doctors about breast and ovarian health. Learn more about how to foster this positive relationship at BrightPink.org. And don’t forget your printable guide on what to ask your doctor.
I was always a very active person. I was either at the gym working out or running my three boys around to their various events. I ate organic fruits and vegetables (LOTS of vegetables) and very little meat. I was also an avid runner, and ran my first marathon in 2015 in Chicago.
Just a few weeks after completing the marathon, my world was turned upside down. On November 19, 2015, I discovered a lump in my breast. I didn’t think much of it and figured it would just go away. A couple of weeks later the lump remained and with the constant nagging of my husband I agreed to go to the doctor.
With my excellent health and lack of family history, no one suspected cancer. After a mammogram, ultrasound, and a biopsy for a “cyst,” I heard the words I thought I would never hear: “You have cancer.” At first, I thought they must be wrong, that my results had gotten mixed up with someone else’s.
I’m only 36 years old, this kind of thing doesn’t happen to someone like me. I was one of “those people” who believed that just because I did x, y, z, I would never have to deal with any major health issues.
After the initial shock wore off, I made the choice to tackle my diagnosis head on. I completed six rounds of chemotherapy and had a double mastectomy with reconstruction. Even though I got cancer despite my healthy habits, those same habits helped to keep me strong to fight cancer, and my doctors believed my healthy lifestyle kept my cancer from being worse than it was. I still believe in healthy eating and staying active as a means of prevention, but I now know that genetics play a big part in your health, too. I tested positive for the ATM gene.
I first heard about Bright Pink from a fellow member of my running group, who ran the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon as a charity runner for Bright Pink. When I read about the organization I knew immediately that the next time I ran the Chicago Marathon it would be for Bright Pink. I love that Bright Pink focuses on educating women about how they can be proactive to prevent cancer or detect it early.
I learned a lot about breast cancer this past year, but I wish I had the knowledge that Bright Pink provides earlier.
I decided to run the 2017 Chicago Marathon as a charity runner for Bright Pink because I believe knowledge is power. My goal is to help other women learn about breast cancer prevention and early detection so that one day no woman will ever have to go through what I did.
Join Felicia and help Bright Pink empower women to live proactively by signing up for the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon with Team Bright Pink.
Ten years ago, after becoming the youngest woman in the country to undergo a risk-reducing double mastectomy, I was a changed person. Having the opportunity to play offense, not defense, to be proactive, not reactive was empowering and life-changing.
I never planned to start a non-profit organization, but Bright Pink needed to be started. After experiencing this for myself, I knew that I had a responsibility to give other women the same opportunity.
Bright Pink started in 2007 as a website for women at high-risk for breast and ovarian cancer. At the start of 2017, it has evolved into a movement of millions of women who are proactive advocates for their breast and ovarian health.
The journey over the last ten years has been richer than I could have ever imagined, filled with snapshots of the impact we have been able to make: the first time I opened an email from a woman who said “thank you, you saved my life”; watching as we crossed $1 million dollars in the bank account; hearing the head of Harvard’s OB/GYN program describe our workshop as “game-changing”; experiencing our first Times Square take-over with Orbit White gum and then subsequent take-overs with Aerie; listening as one of our education ambassadors praised Bright Pink as the reason she will get to be at her son’s high school graduation; celebrating as our 250,000th person completed a risk assessment at AssessYourRisk.org.
These moments, and countless others over the last 10 years have been a driving force for me personally, even in the toughest times: finding out we didn’t get that big philanthropic gift we were counting on, seeing the results from a failed program we were so hopeful about, losing a beloved member of the Bright Pink family we all thought was going to defy the odds. I have fallen and gotten back up, learned so much, and been reminded that even with the best intentions, this work is really, really hard, and sometimes, my own leadership fell short.
While I have been entrusted the honor of leading the Bright Pink charge for the first decade and am proud to say that I’ve helped save thousands of lives, I am very certain I am not the right person to lead the organization from a day-to-day perspective into the next decade. I have grown to realize that my skill-set lies in being that gut-driven entrepreneur, who can get something off the ground and achieve a critical mass. But, as they say, what got us here, won’t get us there: Bright Pink is in need of a seasoned leader who can take us to the next level and help the organization achieve its full potential.
With this in mind, we have started the search for a new CEO, who will lead the organization on a daily basis. As soon as we identify this new leader, I will be assuming my next challenge as Chairman of the Board, focusing my efforts on supporting our new CEO and leading the organization from a new vantage point.
As we pause and celebrate the last decade of positive impact, it is also important to realize how much work still has to be done.
There are still women that have no idea that their father’s side of the family history influences their cancer risk as much as their mother’s side. There are still women that don’t go to the doctor regularly or understand how to be breast self-aware. There are still women needlessly dying of breast and ovarian cancer that could have been prevented with early intervention. Bright Pink is the answer and growing the reach and impact of our life-saving programs can change all of this.
I am so thankful for the enormous support and contribution of so many who have enabled our success this last decade. Our partners, donors, staff, volunteers, ambassadors have been unmatched and it has been one of my greatest honors to lead Bright Pink and save countless lives. I know the future of this organization is extremely bright.
Happy, Healthy New Year!
All the best in 2017 and beyond,
Lindsay Avner will transition to become Bright Pink’s Chairman of the Board in February 2017. This transition marks the beginning of a new, exciting era for Bright Pink as we continue giving women the tools to become proactive advocates for their own health. Learn how to get involved with Bright Pink today.