Since 1985, breast cancer charities have marked October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), a time to discuss the realities of the disease and raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.
It is an international health campaign that starts on October 1st and ends on October 31st every year. This campaign is a chance to raise awareness about the importance of early detection and treatment. Make a difference! Spread the word about mammograms and encourage communities, organisations, families, and individuals to get involved.
Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women worldwide, both in developed and developing countries. It is also the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in 140 of 184 countries worldwide.
Recently, the incidence of breast cancer in low- and middle-income countries has been rising steadily due mainly to lack of awareness of early detection, barriers to health services, increases in life expectancy, increasing urbanisation and the adoption of western lifestyles.
In 2019, Belgium had the highest rate of breast cancer in women, followed by Luxembourg, Netherlands, France and Lebanon. In 2018, there were an estimated 2.1 million new cases of breast cancer and 627,000 deaths from breast cancer worldwide, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2008 (IARC).
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, each year about 245,000 women and about 2,200 men are diagnosed with breast cancer. About 41,000 women and 460 men in the US die each year from breast cancer.
Early clinical examination remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control as it improves cancer outcomes by providing care at the earliest possible stage and is therefore an important public health strategy in all settings. When breast cancer is detected early, and if adequate diagnosis and treatment are available, there is a good chance that breast cancer can be cured.
If detected late, however, curative treatment is often no longer an option. In such cases, palliative care to relief the suffering of patients and their families is needed. The consequences of delayed or inaccessible cancer care are lower likelihood of survival, greater morbidity of treatment and higher costs of care, resulting in avoidable deaths and disability from cancer. Something as simple as getting a mammogram could save women’s life.
Delays in accessing cancer care are common with late-stage presentation, particularly in lower resource settings and vulnerable populations. Hence, it is important to know how your breasts normally look and feel. Women should do a monthly breast self-exam to check for changes in the breast shape, skin colour, discharge, and skin texture. Although having regular screening tests for breast cancer is important, mammogram screenings do not find every breast cancer. It is also recommended that most women should see a doctor once or twice a year.
Symptoms of breast tumours vary from person to person. Some common, early warning signs of breast cancer include skin changes, such as swelling, redness, or other visible differences in one or both breasts, an increase in size or change in shape of the breast(s), changes in the appearance of one or both nipples, nipple discharge other than breast milk, general pain in/on any part of the breast, nipple retraction (turning inward), and swollen lymph nodes (sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm).
It is noteworthy that the most recognised symptom of breast cancer is a lump or mass in the breast tissue. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, though breast cancers can be tender, soft, or round. They can even be painful. For this reason, it is critical to have any new breast mass, lump, or breast change checked by an experienced health care professional.
Furthermore, some women will get breast cancer even without any other risk factors that they know of. Every woman should know what she can do to lower her risk of breast cancer. Some of the factors associated with breast cancer, such as being a woman, your age, your genetics, your menstrual history and your family history, for example, can't be changed.
However, other factors, such as being overweight, lack of exercise, smoking, low levels of vitamin D and eating unhealthy food, can be changed by making choices.
The first critical step in the management of cancer is to establish the diagnosis based on pathological examination. Pathology and laboratory medicine services are essential to accurately analyse and interpret patient samples, thereby guiding the diagnosis, treatment and management of the patient.
It is then essential to determine the stage, as staging describes the extent of breast cancer in the body. It is used to help guide treatment options and estimate an individual’s prognosis.
There are five stages of breast cancer, ranging from 0 to IV. Once, a person is determined to have a malignant tumour or diagnosis of breast cancer, the healthcare team will determine staging to communicate how far the disease has progressed.
Pathologists have many ways to find out what stage of breast cancer you have. Clues come from physical exams, biopsies, X-rays, bone scans and other images, and blood tests.
Information from tests is used to find out the size of the tumour, what part of the breast has cancer, whether the cancer has spread from where it first started and where the cancer has spread to.
Cancer treatment requires careful consideration of evidence-based options, which can include more than one of the major therapeutic modalities: surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
One in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in her life. This statistic affects all women equally. But when celebrities are diagnosed with breast cancer, their cases receive more attention than most. Famous or not, upon receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, we all face the same struggles, the same emotions, and the same need for support.
Angelina Jolie knew she had a significant family history of breast cancer, and chose to undergo genetic testing. She tested positive for a BRCA1 mutation, and had a double mastectomy in 2013 as a preventative measure. “I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity,” said Angelina Jolie.
Dateline NBC correspondent and Today show co-host Hoda Kotb was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 at age 43. She has no family history of cancer but the only reason her cancer was discovered is because her gynaecologist noticed lumps in her breast during a routine check-up. After a mastectomy and five years of hormone therapy, Hoda is cancer-free. “Cancer survivors are blessed with two lives. There is your life before cancer and your life after. I am here to tell you your second life is going to be so much better than the first,” Said Hoda Kotb.
Robin Roberts, another co-anchor of Good Morning America, discovered a lump during a breast self-examination in 2007. Her mother encouraged her to “Make your mess your message.” Robin has been public about her cancer struggles, even winning awards for her courage in raising awareness. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to get screened and checked for all cancers and to do self breast-examinations,” said Robin Roberts.
The American comedy actress Christina Applegate also became a breast cancer survivor in 2008 at the young age of 36. She was at risk of developing breast cancer because of her family history. “I laughed more in the hospital than I ever have in my life, making fun of all the weird things that were happening to me,” she said.
On Sunday, September 8th, Japan’s former Empress Michiko underwent surgery after the 84-year-old was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, according to the imperial household agency.
This month, Netflix participates in highlighting the BCAM campaign by presenting five films and TV shows to watch such as; Tig (2015), Cristina (2016), The C Word (2016), Dead to Me, Season 1, Episode 4, “I Can’t Go Back” (2019), and Jane the Virgin Season 4, Episode 14, “Chapter Seventy-Eight” (2018).
In 1993 Evelyn Lauder, Senior Corporate Vice President of the Estée Lauder Companies, founded “The Breast Cancer Research Foundation” and established the pink ribbon as its symbol, though this was not the first time the ribbon had been used to symbolise breast cancer.
Charlotte Haley, a California woman, whose sister, daughter, and granddaughter had breast cancer, had distributed peach-colour ribbons to call attention to what she perceived as inadequate funding for research.
In the autumn of 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation handed out pink ribbons to participants in its New York City race for breast cancer survivors.
The colour pink is considered feminine. It evokes traditional feminine gender roles, such as caring for other people, being beautiful, being good, and being cooperative. The pink ribbon represents fear of breast cancer, hope for the future, and solidarity with women who currently have breast cancer.
A variety of events around the world are organised in October, including walks and runs, and the pink illumination of landmark buildings. On Wednesday, October 2nd, Paris's most famous icon “Eiffel Tower” turned pink at night as part of a push for breast cancer awareness.
On September 30th, 2017, President Donald Trump proclaimed National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the White House was illuminated in pink in honour of the month.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Centre Léon Bérard hosted on Wednesday, October 8th, the first in a series of public discussions about cancer prevention at the IARC headquarters building in Lyon, France.
The event focused on breast cancer prevention, which is entitled “Prévenir le cancer du sein: on en parle?” (Preventing breast cancer: will we talk about it?)
So, think before you pink and take responsibility for raise funds and awareness in this critical fight.