For more than 30 years now, the month of October has seen a huge push to raise awareness about breast cancer. Created in 1985 through a joint effort between the American Academy of Family Physicians, Cancer Care, Inc. and the British chemical company, Imperial Chemical Industries, now AstraZeneca Healthcare Foundation, Breast Cancer Awareness Month has brought together healthcare workers, industry sponsors and activists spurred on by personal experiences with the cancer that affects 1 out of every 8 women in the U.S. sometime during her lifetime.
Failing, so far, in all attempts to find a way to prevent this pervasive and potentially deadly disease, focus was shifted to building awareness about the importance of early detection. Healthcare professionals believe that the number one best way to prevent and reduce deaths from breast cancer lies in finding it as early as possible and being able to take advantage of current state-of-the-art treatments. The earlier the detection, while still small and contained, the better the odds for successful treatment. To do that, awareness programs stress the importance of regular screening tests.
Predictions, for women in the U.S. during the calendar year, are for roughly 250,00 to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, which is where the cancer spreads to surrounding breast tissues. Of those, some 40,000 are expected to die during that same period. The good news is that death rates have been decreasing since 1989, just a few years after the first Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In addition to advances in quality and effectiveness of treatment, this trend has been attributed to increased awareness resulting in earlier detection through screening.
Women have been advised to do self-exams and have regular check-ups for any indication of breast cancer for years. The difference that screening has made is due to its ability to find and diagnose a disease before symptoms appear. Once a tumor is large enough to feel, it has had a chance to not only grow but also spread. Breast cancer detected through a screening is more likely to be much smaller and still confined to the point of origin. When breast cancer is found in its earliest stages, a woman has a better than 90% chance of long-term survival.
Pink Is Not Everyone’s Favorite Color
When the calendar flips from September to October, everything goes pink. The lights on the lawn bathe the White House with a rosy glow. Huge pink ribbons appear on everything from 747s and beer trucks to NFL helmets. Some police departments have even gone so far as to using pink handcuffs during October.
Not everyone, however, believes this is such a good thing. Heightened awareness has been beneficial, as evidenced by the lowering of the death rate from breast cancer. No one argues with that. What some do have issue with, though, is that the October campaign has become more of a marketing opportunity for companies. Plus, the millions of dollars collected could, perhaps, be better spent. They believe that it is time to shift the goal from awareness to action and funnel those dollars into research for preventing breast cancer and finding a cure for it and the many other types of cancer that affect so many.