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Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Melanie McCulley, MS, BCC, HHP

Support Services Program Manager at To Life!

October is upon us and with it comes all the glorious autumn colors from yellow to orange to red and plenty of pink. Since 1985, October has been designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), sometimes referred to as Pinktober. It’s an annual international campaign to raise awareness about breast cancer, and educate about the importance of screening, early detection, and risk reduction.

For all the positives, BCAM has not escaped concerns about the commodification of breast cancer and “pink profiteering,” but the month is not about product marketing. It’s about the 3.8 million breast cancer survivors/thrivers currently in the U.S., the estimated 276, 480 U.S. women who will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year, the 48,530 who will be diagnosed with non-invasive (in situ), and the estimated 42,690 deaths (42,170 women and 520 men) from breast cancer in 2020. BCAM is about the 40% greater mortality rate for Black women with breast cancer, their higher rate of breast cancer before age 40, and the increased risk for triple-negative breast cancer (twice as high as for White women), with a lower referral for genetic testing.

BCAM is also about increased awareness and education about breast cancer and the progress with screening, testing and treatment that has resulted in a 40% reduction in overall breast cancer deaths, since 1989. And it’s about more precision treatment, specific to the characteristics of an individual cancer, that are increasing survival rates and quality of life for women with metastatic breast cancer.

Whether you choose to wear pink this month, display a ribbon, or participate in fundraisers and events, please commit to awareness and education about your health. Commit to staying informed and on schedule with your screenings, including during COVID-19. Consider an honest assessment of your eating, sleeping, and lifestyle habits and changing up those that do not support good breast and overall health. Know your body and your breasts and follow up with your doctor about anything that does not look or feel right. If your mammogram report indicates you have dense breasts, speak with your doctor about adding an annual breast ultrasound.

During BCAM, consider taking stock of the personal and cleaning products you use, if you find ingredients toxic to breast health, perhaps go green and clean. For at least the month of October, be aware of how much blue light you are exposed to at night and turn off all screens two hours or more before bed. Not only will this support good sleep hygiene, but you may have a new health habit established by the end of the month.

If you are under the standard mammogram start age, be aware that the American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging guidelines recommend all women have a breast cancer risk assessment by age 30 to determine if you are of average risk and should begin mammograms at age 40, or whether you could benefit from early screening. This is especially critical for Black women and women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent due to the higher rates of BRCA1 mutation and triple negative breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month means different things to different people and is observed in various ways, but let it also be an annual reminder to stay up-to-date on screenings and to assess and revise health habits. It can also be a time of reflection, a reminder that research and advocacy are still needed in the quest for a cure, and an opportunity to celebrate each victory, and every survivor/thriver.

Statistics from the American Cancer Society's, Cancer Facts & Figures 2020, the ACS website, and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program.