BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — October is national Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Alabama health experts expect more than 4,000 new cases of the disease across the state this year, meaning more than 700 Alabamians are projected to die from it in 2022.

“It’s one of the most common cancers that we deal with nationally and in our state,” said Dr. Carter Capra, oncologist at Ascension St. Vincent’s Birmingham.

At the start of the pandemic, Dr. Capra said doctors saw a steep drop in cancer screenings, and they felt worried about missing cases before it’s too late, especially breast cancer cases, which are treatable if caught early.

Those screening numbers are back to normal now, but doctors are still using the month to emphasize the need to be screened.

“We are playing catch up to make sure that we are catching those people who did miss their screening exams because that’s exactly what you want to avoid. You don’t want to end up with a more advanced disease,” Capra said.

He added that the number of new breast cancer cases over the years has mostly stayed the same, but deaths due to the disease have declined steadily, thanks to advances in life-saving screening technology. He also pointed out when it’s time to start getting checked out.

“If you’re in your early 40s, you need to have a conversation with your doctor. If you’re at least age 45, you probably need to go ahead and get yearly mammography at that point … Please if you are experiencing any sort of symptoms, breast symptoms of any sort, pain, palpable lumps, you need to talk to your physician right now,” Capra said.

If you have a family history of the disease, Capra suggests regular screenings starting at a younger age.

As for theories floating around TikTok and social media suggesting that wearing sports bras for too long increases the risk of breast cancer, Dr. Capra debunked that and said there is no scientific evidence linking sports bras to breast cancer.

If you’re concerned about the disease, the best thing to do is get screened sooner than later.

“[Breast cancer] is one that we have tremendous successes with. Even in the advanced state [of the cancer], we can still treat and control the disease for a very long time, but there is tremendous opportunity for cure of the disease so long if you catch it early,” Capra said.