For over 30 years National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), which happens every October, has been helping women understand their treatment options, as well as increase their chances of early detection.
Breast cancer has no known cure and is one of the leading health crisis for women in the United States.
The American Cancer Society, who is credited with starting NBCAM in 1985 along with partner pharmaceutical company Imperial Chemical Industries, says it’s the most common cancer in women after skin cancer and there is a 1 in 8 chance that any given woman will develop breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 251,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women and that 40,610 women will die from breast cancer. “At this time there are more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. This includes women still being treated and those who have completed treatment,” the Society said.
October Awareness Faces Challenges
The 2017 October NBCAM will be just as large as last year. Along with the American Cancer Society, other foundations, doctor’s offices, grocery stores, apparel stores, professional teams and private individuals will be spreading the word to “Think Pink” during the month of October.
While the advice to get tested and know treatment options is certainly worth taking seriously, what can make it challenging is that more and more people can’t afford to get tested and miss the early signs of cancer. The National Breast Cancer Foundation said that due to “increased healthcare costs and a rapidly increasing percentage of uninsured women, many simply cannot afford the cost of screening tests. These women are at a significantly higher risk of dying from breast cancer if later diagnosed … That’s why NBCF provides free mammograms to women in all 50 states through our network of hospitals. We are now joining hands with people around the world to provide breast cancer education.”
The Importance of Regular Mammograms
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast and is often used as an early detection method for breast cancer.
“Early detection of breast cancer with screening mammography means that treatment can be started earlier in the course of the disease, possibly before it has spread,” said the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the U.S. government’s principal agency for cancer research and training.
Studies showed receiving mammography screenings reduced the number of deaths from breast cancer in those age 40-74. In addition to grants by organizations like NBCF, women on Medicaid or with low household income can often get the screening for free or at a reduced price at certain locations.
“Breast self-exam (BSE), or regularly examining your breasts on your own, can be an important way to find a breast cancer early, when it’s more likely to be treated successfully,” said BreastCancer.org, a not-for-profit organization that educates about Breast Cancer. “Not every cancer can be found this way, but it is a critical step you can and should take for yourself.”
However, self-screenings are not often recommended by organizations as the only step to early detection. “In clinical trials, BSE alone was not found to help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer,” warns the NCI. “However, many women choose to examine their own breasts.”
They also note that this can cause undue concern if women do not realize that their breasts do change naturally. Additionally, it is not an effective method of detection. “Over the years, there has been some debate over just how valuable BSE is in detecting breast cancer early and increasing the likelihood of survival,” said breastcancer.org. Because of the ongoing uncertainty raised by studies, the American Cancer Society has chosen to advise women that BSE is an “optional” screening tool.
Early detection of breast cancer does not guarantee survival, however, doctors are expected to perform reliable tests.
“One 2013 study, undertaken by the National Coalition on Health Care along with Best Doctors, Inc., found a disconnect between what cancer specialists assume to be the case about physician misdiagnosis and the facts of the matter,” reported the New York Times. “A majority of the 400 doctors in the study believed that from zero to 10 percent of patients are misdiagnosed; however, research indicates that the actual figure may be as high as 28 percent. I suspect that patients would put the percentage higher.“
The book “Malignant” by S. Lochlann Jain was also cited in the New York Times report, noting that “doctors often work under the misguided assumption that cancer is a disease of older people, leading to an immorally high number of delayed diagnoses and, in turn, the large proportion of late-stage cancers.”
A missed diagnosis can be devastating and may fall under medical malpractice law. Patients who feel that they may have been misdiagnosed or mistreated should speak with an attorney to discuss a possible case.