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MS and breast cancer awareness

By Shambrekiá Wise

Happy Fall, Y’all!

This time of year is my favorite. The temps cool down, the spices come out, and the footballs are down the field. We won’t even mention that I’m a “Fall Baby” because the way I celebrate the entire month of October is shameful, but I’m okay with that. 

Aside from my favorite things kicking off this month, October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For those of us with multiple sclerosis, these two seemingly distinct health concerns are more interconnected than one might initially think. This month, we’ll explore the relationship between MS and breast cancer awareness, as well as discuss how certain medications used to manage MS can potentially make individuals more vulnerable to this particular disease.

Understanding MS

If you’re reading one of my pieces for the first time, welcome. If you don’t know much about MS, I’m here to help with that, too. MS is a chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by the immune system mistakenly attacking the protective covering of nerve fibers (myelin), leading to a range of symptoms – including fatigue, numbness, muscle weakness, and difficulty with coordination and balance. Got it? Good.

Breast Cancer Awareness month

Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in women worldwide and the month of October is dedicated to raising awareness about this form of cancer, highlighting the importance of early detection through self-exams, mammograms, and understanding risk factors. Going through my own scare last year, I have a sincere appreciation for staying informed and self-advocacy at the earliest stages.

What’s the link

Interestingly, the connection between MS and breast cancer awareness lies in the treatments for MS. Many individuals living with MS manage their condition with disease-modifying therapies that help control inflammation and immune system responses. However, some of these medications, including certain immunosuppressants, have raised concerns about their potential to increase vulnerability to various diseases, such as cancer.

These immunosuppressive medications, often used to manage the autoimmune response in MS, work by suppressing the immune system's activity. While this can be highly effective in managing MS symptoms and reducing relapses, it can also reduce the body's ability to recognize and fight abnormal cell growth, which is one of the body's defenses against cancer. It’s important that you “learn your body,” especially if you’re utilizing these types of treatments.

While this can be off-putting for most, it's essential to stress that the risk of developing cancer because of MS medications is generally low. However, healthcare providers carefully weigh the benefits of these medications against potential risks when prescribing them. The decision to use a particular DMT is typically made on an individual basis between the prescribing physician and the patient, taking into account the overall health, MS severity, and potential risks.

Empowerment through awareness

For individuals living with MS, it is crucial to stay informed and have open and honest discussions with healthcare providers. Regular check-ups and cancer screenings, such as mammograms, are vital for monitoring one's health. Breast cancer can occur in men and women, so guys make sure you’re doing your checks, too. Health fairs, for instance, are amazing places to gain more knowledge on how you can stay on top of your health. Considering they often inform participants about early detection, risk factors, self-exams and other powerful tools, staying at the top of your preventative game is an incredible preventative measure.

While October is a month of reflection and holiday preparation (just ask Mariah Carey), it's also a time where you can be empowered and take charge of your health. Taking control of our health and well-being is a crucial step in managing chronic conditions and reducing the effect of diseases that affect so many lives. By staying informed, seeking regular check-ups, and participating in awareness initiatives, individuals can take steps toward better health and a brighter future.

Till next time.