Editor’s Note: This article is a part of an Op-Ed series, “Second Opinion,” where patient experts share their take on current research, news, and trends in health and medicine. The views expressed in this article do not reflect the opinions or views of HealthCentral.com.
Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus couldn’t have picked a better time to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Now, I’m not being cold here; far from it. As Louis-Dreyfus herself said, in announcing her diagnosis via Twitter and Instagram on Sept. 28, 2017, “1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one.” Breast cancer is the second-most common women’s cancer (after skin cancer). At some point in life, about 12 percent of all American women (one in eight) will hear the news Louis-Dreyfus first heard Sept. 18.
And, as a woman in late middle age (she’s 56), Louis-Dreyfus has plenty of company. American women in their 30s face a very small (one in 227) risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. But one in 42 women — a 500 percent increase — can expect to be diagnosed with breast cancer between ages 50 and 60, according to American Cancer Society statistics.
Louis-Dreyfus, thanks to her record-setting six consecutive Emmy awards for a single series (the HBO comedy “Veep”), is remarkably well known to American women in all walks of life. If you watch TV at all, you’ll recognize Louis-Dreyfus not just as Selina Meyer (her character in “Veep”), but from repeats of older shows.
Louis-Dreyfus’ first role in a major hit was Elaine on the iconic “Seinfeld,” a show many people grew up on. She also played the lead in “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” Louis-Dreyfus has won a total of eight Emmy awards stretching over 22 years. The woman is nothing if not recognizable.
So why do I say Louis-Dreyfus’ breast cancer diagnosis is so exquisitely timed?
Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Louis-Dreyfus hasn’t revealed any details of her diagnosis. But statistically speaking, as a woman in her 50s, her cancer is less likely to be as dangerous as it would have been in her 20s, 30s, or 40s. If she’s like most of us, she’ll deal with it via some combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and long-term hormone therapy. And thankfully, the significant majority of all women with breast cancer survive; breast cancer, like many cancers, simply isn’t the ominously deadly disease it used to be.
Despite its improved survival rate, though, breast cancer is still dangerous. If its early symptoms are ignored or go unrecognized, it can morph into an increasingly deadly condition. Luckily, breast cancer does come with a major, easily identifiable symptom: a new lump in the breast. And screening for breast lumps via mammogram is available to most women free of charge, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
Not all women will feel a breast lump prior to a breast cancer diagnosis. And most women who discover a lump will ultimately learn it’s not cancer. But all breast lumps should be taken seriously. And every woman should speak with her doctor about whether (and how often) she should be screened via mammogram.
You know the expression, “The life you save may be your own”? Julia Louis-Dreyfus is about to embark on a course of treatment that will likely save her own life. But thanks to her willingness to share her breast cancer diagnosis with the public, she’s potentially saved the lives of other women: women who might have forgotten that “1 in 8” statistic; women who might have been ignoring that breast lump.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a.k.a. “Pinktober,” is marked by flashy awareness campaigns of every sort. But Louis-Dreyfus — a.k.a. Elaine, Christine, Selina — may have trumped them all this year. Sometimes a single voice, rising through the clamor, is just what it takes to raise awareness — one Julia Louis-Dreyfus fan, one woman at a time.
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PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.