Among the multi-colors of Autumn this month is a beautiful streak of pink. For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we honor victors in the battle against breast cancer, and cherish the memory of brave heroes we’ve lost. Women’s Health of Chicago supports survivors, many who’ve fought breast cancer multiple times, and now serve as activists, mentors, and tireless examples of how the battle might be won for all. While an update on the war against this disease is mixed with highs and lows, one thing remains constant: early detection is still our best weapon in the fight.
As an obstetrics and gynecology specialist, I’ve walked through diagnosis and treatment of this disease with close friends and patients. Very few people I know remain untouched in some way by the fight for a cure. It’s a personal battle for me and many in my genetic family and patient family.
Rates of Detection and Survival in the Battle Against Breast Cancer
The survival rate for breast cancer has been growing since 1989. Survival rates among women under the age of fifty are even more encouraging than the national average. Treatment advances, earlier detection, and increased awareness are credited for this increase.
Thanks to awareness and screening, rates of detection have been on the rise. Earlier detection uncovers more cases of breast cancer annually – about 307,000 this year or one in eight women. Cures for Stage I Breast Cancer approach 95% nationally, and that’s great news. Not only does early detection increase rates of survival, women who maintain a recommended mammography schedule undergo less invasive treatment at lower cost. Consult your gynecologist for advice on how regularly you schedule a mammogram based on your age, family history, and genetic risk factors.
Unfortunately, advances in detection and treatment haven’t impacted all women evenly. Black women receive breast cancer diagnoses at younger ages and survival rates are lower than those for white women. The data suggests that breast cancer may exact a greater economic and family toll on black women than even Asian or Latino women. The median age at diagnosis is 58 for black women and 62 for white women.
The data for the report was obtained from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program of the National Cancer Institute, a program that has been collecting information on cancer patients since 1973.
Feel Something, Say Something
In addition to mammograms, we stress the importance of patients trusting their own familiarity with their bodies. Whether it’s a lump or an inclination that something is wrong, follow through and get it checked. You may learn your concern is unfounded, or examination may lead in a totally different direction. However, act on this instinct, because it’s a common trait among women who discover breast cancer early.
A Strong Network of Support
No one should battle this disease alone. Agencies and support groups are working to raise funds to increase breast cancer awareness and research. Learn more about how you can donate, get involved, or find your own support group, by reaching out to the American Cancer Society, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, or Susan G. Koman for the Cure.
What You Should Do During Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Breast cancer awareness inspires and motivates women to action. No matter your age, if it’s been longer than 12 months since your last mammogram, schedule your physical examination and mammogram as soon as possible. If you’ve had your mammogram, encourage a loved one or co-worker to schedule their annual exam. You could be the difference in another life saved.