In the Lifetime original movie, “Five”, airing at 9 PM tonight, Jeanne Tripplehorn plays an oncologist named Pearl, whose story is woven through five vignettes, each illuminating a different facet of breast cancer. Through her role in the movie, which features an all-star cast and directors that include Demi Moore, Alicia Keys and Jennifer Aniston, Tripplehorn told Healthline.com in a recent interview, “I learned about cancer almost as a personality.”
The actress, who starred in the HBO hit, “Big Love” as a polygamist’s wife and breast cancer survivor, has seen the real-life toll of the disease, which strikes one in eight women over a lifetime. “I dealt with breast cancer on my mother’s side of the family—my grandmother and my aunt both had breast cancer—and we really rallied around each other.” She’s also discovered how confusing the journey from detection to treatment can be and how to help and support someone who is battling the disease. Here are three things every women should know about breast cancer.
Early detection saves lives.
More women are surviving breast cancer than ever before, thanks to both improved treatments and screening tests that catch the disease early when it’s easier to treat. But women are often so busy taking care of everyone else’s health that they neglect their own, says Tripplehorn. “When I started working on this project, I realized that like most women who get wrapped up in their day-to-day lives, and don’t put themselves first, it has been a couple of years since I’d had a mammogram.“ Not only did she immediately schedule the test, but she hopes that the movie will inspire other women to do so as well. The American Cancer Society recommends these screening guidelines:
- Annual mammograms, starting at age 40 and continuing as long as the woman is in good health.
- Breast exams by a doctor every three years for women ages 20 to 39 and annually for those 40 and older.
- Know how your breasts usually look and feel, and promptly report any changes to your doctor.
All women are at risk for breast cancer.
A common misconception is that breast cancer mainly strikes women who have a family history of the disease, like Tripplehorn. In reality, more than 70 percent of the 207,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year have no family history of the disease, reports the breast cancer organization Y-Me. Another 20 to 25 percent have risk factors that are not genetic, such as being overweight or obese, heavy drinking, never having had kids or giving birth for the first time after age 30, never having breastfed, or going through puberty early or menopause late (increasing your body’s exposure to estrogen). The number one risk for breast cancer is simply being a woman, and the risk goes up as you get older.
Alert your doctor if you have a family history.
Having a mother or sister with breast cancer doubles your risk, and having two or more close relatives with the disease triples it. The most common inherited cause of breast cancer is a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. These mutations can predispose both women and men to breast cancer, and raise women’s risk for ovarian cancer and men’s risk for prostate cancer. You may want to talk to a genetic counselor about being tested for these genes if you:
- Have one or more first-degree female relatives (mother, sister, daughter) who had breast cancer before menopause, particularly if the cancer occurred in both breasts (bilateral breast cancer).
- Have one or more first-degree male relatives who had breast cancer.
- Have one or more first-degree female relatives who had premenopausal ovarian cancer.
- Are of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage and have a family history of breast cancer.
The right support can make a big difference if a friend or relative is diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Everyone is different when they are faced with death,” says Tripplehorn. For example, Wanda Sykes hid her breast cancer diagnosis for two years, but recently revealed that she’s undergone a double mastectomy. Other women become confused and overwhelmed by the medical maze from diagnosis to treatment. When a friend is battling a potentially life-threatening disease, Tripplehorn adds, “it’s very scary—but I personally have learned from experiences that all you have to do is just show up or make a phone call. That’s all it really takes.”