Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Tsedenia Gigar Getaneh
Women’s Rights Researcher,
Global Human Rights Defence.
“October can feel different for each of us — some wear pink to celebrate, some quietly observe the month, some feel grief, and some feel unseen or misunderstood. We want to normalize it all.’’ (Breast Cancer. Org, Aug. 25, 2023)
For the past 90 years, October has been designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a global initiative where individuals across the world embrace the color pink and wear pink ribbons to remind everyone about breast cancer. This annual event serves as a reminder of the prevalence of breast cancer, which is the most widespread cancer globally. Commonly referred to as 'Pink October,' it is organized by various groups, including breast cancer advocacy organizations, local community organizations, and major retailers. The month features various campaigns and programs. (UICC Sept. 29, 2023)
Awareness is increasing regarding the importance of prevention and routine screening for early breast cancer diagnosis, including education about metastatic breast cancer and its risk factors. It emphasizes the significance of regular screening, starting at age 40 or an age appropriate for one's individual breast cancer risk. Furthermore, the campaign aims to raise funds for breast cancer research. (Breast Cancer. Org, Aug. 25, 2023)
Breast cancer remains a significant health concern for women worldwide, being the most common cancer among women globally and affecting millions of lives each year. However, the good news is that with increased awareness, early detection, and advancements in treatment, the chances of surviving breast cancer have significantly improved.
The strongest risk factor for breast cancer is female gender. Approximately 0.5–1% of breast cancers occur in men. Nevertheless, the treatment of breast cancer in men follows the same principles of management as it does for women. (WHO July 12, 2023)
- Pink Triumph: The Evolution of the Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon
The awareness campaign began in 1985 as a week-long initiative launched by the American Cancer Society in collaboration with Imperial Chemical Industries. Over time, this awareness effort extended into a month-long event. (Breast Cancer.Org, Aug. 25, 2023)
The introduction of the pink ribbon came into play in 1992. The backstory of using ribbons to represent specific causes actually traces back to 1979 when the song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" inspired Penney Laingen, whose husband was a prisoner of war, to use yellow ribbons as a symbol of hope. (Breast Cancer.Org, Aug. 25, 2023)
Interestingly, the breast cancer awareness ribbon almost didn't adopt the color pink. It began as a grassroots effort led by Charlotte Haley, who initially used peach-colored loops. At the same time, Alexandra Penney, the Editor-in-Chief of Self magazine, joined forces with Evelyn Lauder, a breast cancer survivor, and Senior Corporate Vice President of Estée Lauder, to distribute pink ribbons after the magazine's second annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue. Because of the incredible reach of the magazine and the Estée Lauder brand, pink triumphed over peach and is now used by breast cancer organizations around the world. (Breast Cancer.Org, Aug. 25, 2023)
- Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer starts within the milk ducts or the milk-producing lobules of the breast. In its earliest stage, known as "in situ," breast cancer is not immediately life-threatening. However, the cancer cells can spread into nearby breast tissue, resulting in the formation of lumps or thickened areas. (WHO, July 12, 2023)
Invasive breast cancers have the potential to spread further, often affecting nearby lymph nodes or even other organs in a process called metastasis. Metastasis is a serious complication that can ultimately lead to a fatal outcome. (WHO, July 12, 2023)
Treatment for breast cancer varies depending on individual factors, the specific type of cancer, and the extent of its spread. Typically, treatment strategies include a combination of surgical procedures, radiation therapy, and medications tailored to the patient's unique situation. (WHO, July 12, 2023)
In 2020, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer, resulting in 685,000 deaths globally. As of the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years, making it the world's most prevalent occurring cancer globally. Breast cancer can affect women at any age after puberty, with higher incidence rates observed in older age groups. (WHO, July 12, 2023)
Breast cancer mortality rates remained relatively stable from the 1930s to the 1970s when the primary treatment approach was surgical (radical mastectomy). Substantial improvements in survival rates began in the 1990s when early detection programs for breast cancer were established and integrated with comprehensive treatment plans, including effective medical therapies. (WHO, July 12, 2023)
These statistics emphasize the importance of early detection, access to comprehensive treatment, and ongoing research in the fight against breast cancer. Regular breast cancer screenings, such as mammograms, can significantly improve the chances of early diagnosis and successful treatment. Additionally, advancements in medical therapies have contributed to better survival rates for those diagnosed with breast cancer. (Breast Cancer. Org, Aug. 25, 2023)
- Empowering Breast Cancer Awareness: Together We Make a Difference
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a significant global campaign that has evolved over the years to raise awareness, educate, fundraise for research, and ultimately improve the outlook for those affected by breast cancer. While the statistics indicate the challenges posed by breast cancer, they also emphasize the positive impact of early detection and advancements in medical therapies in the fight against this disease.
In essence, society should approach breast cancer with compassion, awareness, and proactive measures to support prevention, early detection, treatment, and survivorship. By collectively working toward these goals, we can make significant strides in reducing the impact of breast cancer on individuals and communities.
- UICC (September 29, 2023). UICC members during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Retrieved October 3, 2023, from https://www.uicc.org/what-we-do/areas-focus/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-awareness-month#:~:text=Breast%20Cancer%20Awareness%20Month%20has,raise%20awareness%20about%20breast%20health
- Breast Cancer. Org (August 25, 2023). Breast Cancer Awareness Month Retrieved October 3, 2023, from https://www.breastcancer.org/about-breast-cancer/breast-cancer-awareness-month
- WHO (July 12, 2023). Breast cancer Retrieved October 4, 2023, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/breast-cancer