How To Support Breast Cancer Awareness

Breast Cancer Awareness Month takes place in October every year. It began in 1985 as a week-long event and was championed by the American Cancer Society and Imperial Chemical Industries. Betty Ford, who was diagnosed with breast cancer while her husband Gerald was president, helped launch the event. Organizers set up national and local events all over the country every October.

This article discusses how to get involved in Breast Cancer Awareness month in your community.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Goals 

In addition to raising awareness, Breast Cancer Awareness month events provide people with information about the early detection of breast cancer, such as mammograms. The events provide necessary tests and diagnostics to people living in underserved areas, as well as those who do not have the means to get the tests.

More Screening and Improvements in Diagnostic Delays

Breast cancer rates have increased since Breast Cancer Awareness Month started. The increase in cases is tied to an increase in access to screenings. Since more people have access to early detection tests, more breast cancer cases are found early. As a result, the survival rate of breast cancer has drastically improved, and deaths from the disease have been cut nearly in half since the 1980s.

Free or Low-Cost Services

Many people do not have healthcare insurance coverage. The cost of care can be a deterring factor in getting breast cancer screenings because people without insurance may not be able to afford to have them regularly. Breast Cancer Awareness Month aims to change that by getting donations that will help make sure that people who cannot afford screenings can get access to free or low-cost mammograms.

R.I.S.E.

The R.I.S.E. program developed for Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an acronym for all the things that the National Breast Cancer Foundation does to educate and empower people about breast cancer. RISE stands for:

  • Rally In Screening Everyone: This program asks people to take the Mammo Pledge to ensure that all people get mammograms when needed. Donations are collected to help people who need mammograms but can’t afford to get them.
  • Rally In Serving Everyone: This part directs people to where they can volunteer to help serve their community by raising breast cancer awareness.
  • Rally In Supporting Everyone: This part helps support people affected by breast cancer. People looking to get involved can hold virtual or social media fundraisers to raise money.
  • Rally In Sharing Everything: This aspect of the program allows people to spread the word by providing access to the community calendar and hosting their own charity live streams for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

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Ways To Participate

There are many breast cancer charities to choose from if you want to participate in Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Doing your research is important because you want to know where your money will go when you donate. Typically, charities for breast cancer are transparent about how the money is spent.

Here are some other ways to participate:

  • Getting involved in the RISE program
  • Holding events in your community to raise money for a charity of your choice
  • Spreading awareness through your social media channels
  • Talking about regular screenings with your family, friends, and peers
  • Sharing your personal story of breast cancer with others to provide hope and a sense of community and togetherness
  • Purchasing pink ribbons, t-shirts, and other breast cancer awareness merchandise from a reputable charity that uses the profits for the cause
  • Volunteering your time to do community outreach in underserved areas

Valuable Community Resources 

The National Breast Cancer Foundation offers a variety of resources for people that they can take advantage of, including:

  • Free educational guides that are easily downloadable online
  • A National Mammography Program that helps match people with facilities offering mammograms and other breast cancer diagnostics
  • The Patient Navigator Program helps patients with breast cancer find facilities in their area where they can learn more about the disease and get help with the costs of treatment

Other organizations, such as the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, also provide resources to help people find screening programs where they live, access information about breast cancer, and get support for coping or financial assistance after being diagnosed with the disease.

Summary

Breast Cancer Awareness Month runs throughout October. Its primary goals are to provide information about breast cancer to increase awareness and help people find and access diagnostic testing, which has led to lower death rates for the disease. There are many ways to participate and help others get screened.

A Word From Verywell

Getting involved in Breast Cancer Awareness Month can potentially save lives. Reaching more people through breast cancer awareness allows people to get tested earlier and reduce the death rate. Know your risk factors, get tested, and stay on top of your breast health.


— Update: 25-12-2022 — We found an additional article As Breast Cancer Awareness Month Ends, These Facts Are Worth Remembering from the website www.cuimc.columbia.edu for the keyword when does breast cancer awareness end.

Breast cancer doesn’t take a break when November rolls around and the pink ribbons of October’s breast cancer awareness month fade from view.

Physicians at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons have been speaking and writing about what people, not just women, should know about breast cancer.

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Here, we’ve summed up some of their latest advice, good for all 12 months of the year.


Know your risk

When breast cancer is caught early, the outcome is much better.

“Thanks to greater awareness and more advanced exams and screenings, breast cancer is caught at an earlier stage than ever before,” says Luona Sun, MD, assistant professor of surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and a breast surgeon at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian.

“Knowing your risk status is the most important first step,” Sun says. This means having a consultation with your doctor to determine your risk. It could also include genetic testing—if the patient is comfortable with it and wants it—and a full family history evaluation.

Based on a person’s risk level and age, doctors can map out a personalized screening plan moving forward.

For people with average risk, the American Cancer Society recommends that women 45 to 54 years old should get annual mammograms, and women between 40 and 44 have the option to begin annual screening. [See the full recommendations here].


Practice breast self-awareness

Everyone should practice breast self-awareness, says Stacy Ugras, MD, assistant professor of surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and a breast surgical oncologist at NewYork-Presbyterian. 

The simplest way to do that is by looking at your breasts in the mirror with arms both up and down, making sure the breasts are symmetric and that there are no inconsistencies between the two. If there is evidence of skin dimpling or redness, discharge, or scaling of the nipples, tell your doctor. Symptoms like these present physically on the skin’s surface and you can easily monitor them on your own.

As for performing a breast self-exam, “there’s no right or wrong way,” Ugras says. “Many times, patients become overwhelmed and believe they are doing it incorrectly, but I always encourage them to focus on the big picture.”


Some Black and Hispanic women have greater risk

“A report from the National Cancer Institute supported research showing that aggressive forms of breast cancers are common in younger African American/Black and Hispanic/Latina women living in low socioeconomic areas,” says Elise Desperito, MD, assistant professor of radiology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and chief of breast imaging at NewYork-Presbyterian.

These aggressive forms of breast cancer, such as triple negative breast cancer, are less responsive to standard cancer treatments and are associated with poorer survival.

“All women should be evaluated for breast cancer risk no later than age 30,” Desperito adds. “[but] breast cancer risk assessment at age 30 is particularly important for these women.”


Treatments are improving

Within just the past few years, at least four or five additional drugs have been approved for HER2-positive breast cancer.

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“Although it is a more aggressive form of breast cancer, it is also a type of breast cancer that responds well and is very sensitive in general to chemotherapy and targeted therapy,” says Columbia oncologist Katherine Crew, MD, associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“Even in patients who have metastatic disease, women are living longer—sometimes for more than five years—with advanced breast cancer.”


Clinical trials promise more advances

For patients who have all their lymph nodes removed during surgery, about 30% will develop lymphedema, a buildup of fluid in the arm that can be painful.

“We’re starting to do more and more what we call axillary reverse mapping when we do lymph node dissections,” says Roshni Rao, MD, chief of breast surgery and the Vivian L. Milstein Associate Professor of Surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “A study at Columbia, opened by Bret Taback, MD, as part of a national trial, is an effort to try to better visualize these tiny lymphatics so that more can be preserved at the time of surgery to potentially avoid lymphedema in the future.”


3D mammography gives women with dense breasts more options

“If you’re told you have dense breasts, definitely reach out to your doctor to discuss whether additional tests might be appropriate,” says Lauren Friedlander, MD, assistant professor of radiology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“The only way you know you have dense breasts is when a radiologist looks at your mammogram,” Friedlander adds. “Dense breasts are not something your doctor can detect on a physical examination or not something you yourself can feel.”

Having dense breasts does not mean you will get breast cancer. It does mean you need to be vigilant and get mammograms once a year.

“3D mammography does a bit better at finding breast cancers in all women but particularly in women with dense breast tissue,” Friedlander says.


Related News

A Voice for Cancer Patients

Desirée Walker is a native New Yorker who serves on the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Patient Advocacy Board. After receiving her first breast cancer diagnosis at age 38, Walker quickly threw herself into patient advocacy and has worked with organizations and agencies to address health care inequities. 

“I recall public service announcements only saying that the incidence of breast cancer was high for Caucasian women,” she says in a recent HICCC interview.

“After my recovery, I began outreach in communities of African heritage to share my story. It was important to me to be a face of the disease and encourage my community to be informed about breast cancer.”

Karin’s Story: Early Detection and New Radiation Therapy Made All the Difference

Rethinking Routine Mammography Among Older Women

Underutilization of breast cancer screening by some groups is a well-known problem, but mammography can also be overused. Columbia researchers are deploying “de-implementation science” to help improve outcomes and reduce unnecessary procedures.

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About the Author: Tung Chi