Commentary: Join the Fight Against Breast Cancer

Commentary: Join the Fight Against Breast Cancer

This October, the Vola Lawson Breast Cancer Memorial Fund will partner with numerous city departments and organizations to raise awareness of one of the most common cancers in women — breast cancer. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month provides an opportunity to promote prevention methods, provide education on the causes of breast cancer, and raise funding to support screenings, treatment, and research.

In 1996, the late former City Manager Vola Lawson was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. As a breast cancer survivor and advocate for women in Alexandria, Vola established the First Annual Walk to Fight Breast Cancer. The Walk to Fight Breast Cancer was a city-wide event supported by numerous community partners and led by the Alexandria Commission for Women. With community support, the Walk was able to provide free mammograms and other critical screenings to more than 8,000 uninsured and underinsured Alexandria women.

Due to budget cuts, the Annual Walk to Fight Breast Cancer was permanently cancelled in 2014. However, the Alexandria Commission for Women established the Vola Lawson Breast Cancer Memorial Fund to ensure women and men were still able to receive services. Today, the Vola Lawson Breast Cancer Memorial Fund works closely with Inova Hospital, Neighborhood Health, and ACT for Alexandria to continue to fund mammograms for low-income, uninsured or underinsured women in the City of Alexandria.

Each year, 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2017, 886,810 women have been diagnosed nationwide with noninvasive and invasive breast cancer. Noninvasive cancer remains in the milk ducts and does not invade normal tissues within or outside of the breast. In contrast, invasive cancer, the most common type, does grow into normal tissues. In 2016, there were 6,100 new cases of breast cancer in women, 2,470 new cases amongst men; the mortality rate for both men and women was 17 percent in Virginia. For every 100,000 women living in Alexandria during 2009-2013, 100.4 women were diagnosed with breast cancer. Of the 100.4 women diagnosed, the rate of mortality was 24.6.

Although, the cause for breast cancer is unknown, there are preventive steps to mitigate the risk of developing breast cancer and reducing the risk of death. Some of those include, but are not limited to, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol consumption, and breast feeding. Through extensive research, the American Cancer Society has concluded that antiperspirants, bras, induced abortion, and breast implants do not cause breast cancer. Although family history of breast cancer is a risk factor, 85 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no prior family history of the disease.

To learn more about risk factors for breast cancer and prevention, visit the American Cancer Society website: (

The most effective prevention method in reducing the likelihood of death from breast cancer is receiving a mammogram (x-ray of the breast) regularly. According to the United States Preventive Services Task Force, women ages 50-74 years old should receive a mammogram every two years, women ages 40 to 49, should consult their doctors regarding frequency. Unfortunately, consulting a doctor regarding the need for a mammogram and receiving a mammogram or other breast screenings such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a barrier for many women in Alexandria. According to the American Community Survey, the rate of women in Alexandria who are uninsured exceeds rates in neighboring Northern Virginia jurisdictions. In the City of Alexandria during the five-year period, 2009-2013, 12.7 percent of women were uninsured and in 2016 the number rose slightly to 13.1 percent. Comparatively, in Arlington County, 5 percent of women are uninsured and in Fairfax County, 8 percent of women are uninsured. These rates are similar to women reported in Virginia and nationwide. With the uncertainty of healthcare, concerns continue to grow for this population in Alexandria. The Vola Lawson Breast Cancer Memorial Fund works closely with Neighborhood Health to ensure women who are uninsured are able to obtain a physical exam from a physician, receive a free mammogram, and follow-up screenings if necessary.

To support local Alexandria women and men in need of mammograms and other critical screenings, consider donating to the Vola Lawson Breast Cancer Memorial Fund or participating in one of our many events this month. To do so, visit: