October is breast cancer awareness month. Anyone connected to media of any variety already knows this. A massive marketing success, we all know that pink shows support for breast cancer prevention, especially in October.
For me, last month marked three years since I completed chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer. Because of early detection, advances in treatment (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and ongoing hormonal treatment in my case), and ongoing monitoring, my prognosis, and the prognosis for most of the 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, is excellent.
Still in 2008, the last year reported by the CDC, 40,589 women died from breast cancer. The same year, 210,203 U.S. women were diagnosed with breast cancer. It is the most common cancer for U.S. women other than skin cancers.
Breast cancer awareness month is the perfect time to be sure that you and/or the women in your life are following best practices for breast cancer screening. While in recent years, there has been some confusion about breast cancer screening, if you have a family history of breast cancer, it is never too early to talk to your doctor about how to approach your preventative care. All women age 40 or over should talk with a doctor experienced in breast health about when to begin screening mammograms and how often to have them. When it comes to what is best for your breasts, self exam, knowing your own breasts and what feels normal, is a low-tech, low-cost measure.
In January 2009, I found a lump in my breast that I knew immediately was not normal. A coworker's diagnosis of breast cancer had prompted me to have an overdue mammogram seven months before I found the lump, and that mammogram was perfectly normal. The mammogram after I found the lump showed the difference, a glowing spot that led the radiologist to say he would be “very concerned.” The biopsy of the lump confirmed the concern.
Now three years later and cancer free, I can tell you that if I did not find that lump, if I waited two years for my next mammogram, my outcome would very likely have been different.
I share my experience in breast cancer awareness month, not because the experience defines me, but because I know how easy it is to put off a mammogram, how easy it is to miss months of self-checks, and because I know, early detection in breast cancer really can save lives.
THE SUCCESS of the breast cancer awareness movement has resulted in more than $630 million annually in spending on research. It is not too much.
But at Connection Newspapers, we have two other employees who are in ongoing treatment for cancer. Kenny Lourie, who has stage 4 lung cancer, writes a weekly column that appears in most of our papers that discusses his more than three-year journey with candor and humor. Jean Card was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia in early 2011 and has also written about her experience as she raises money for leukemia research and outreach. Visit www.LighttheNight.org and search APL Dumpling Gang.
Lung cancer kills more people in the United States every year than any other kind of cancer, in fact more than the other top cancers combined. In 2008, more than 208,000 people were diagnosed with lung cancer and more than 158,500 died of lung cancer. This is more than the deaths from breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. Spending on lung cancer research? Less than half spent on breast cancer, about $280 million annually. As Lourie wryly points out, part of the problem may be that you can't turn out tens of thousands of lung cancer survivors for a march because, well, there are very few survivors over time.
Prostate cancer has more new cases per year and about the same death rate as breast cancer, but half the funding.
In 2012, there were an estimated 47,150 new cases of leukemia with 23,540 deaths, more than half the number of annual breast cancer deaths. But funding for leukemia research lags behind.
Nothing should be taken away from the efforts of breast health advocates. But clearly more effort is needed in other areas.
SPEAKING OF HEALTH RISKS, on average more than 20,000 people a year in the United States die from the flu. The numbers vary from year to year, with as many as 50,000 deaths in some years, and some studies showing the average number of deaths to be more than 35,000. The influenza vaccine is a cheap and effective method of preventing or reducing the impact of the flu.
Remember that no matter what health plan you have, there is just one person in charge of your health care: you.
— Mary Kimm, firstname.lastname@example.org