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National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Tammy McCausland

October 2020 marks the 35th anniversary of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Every October for the past 35 years, charities in October raise money to support breast cancer research and to support patients and survivors. The pink ribbon has become an internationally recognized symbol.

The monthly campaign also aims to encourage women to get their annual mammogram and educate people about the importance of early screening and testing. Some interesting facts about breast cancer in the United States:

  • It is the leading cancer diagnosis in women in the U.S.
  • One in eight women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • About 95 percent of breast cancers occur in women over age 40.
  • Only 5–10 percent of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary.
  • Mammograms can help reduce the risk of breast cancer by 30 to 40 percent in women ages 40 to 70.

After she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, actress Christina Applegate underwent a double mastectomy at age 36. She went public with her decision to help raise awareness among young women who may not think they’re at risk. On May 14, 2013, The New York Times published “My Medical Choice,” an op-ed written by Angelina Jolie about her decision to undergo a double mastectomy because she had the BRCA1 gene, which put her at “an 87 percent chance of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.” Comedian Wanda Sykes, who was diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer. also underwent a double mastectomy to reduce her risk to zero. There are numerous others, both famous and less well known (i.e., regular folks) who undergo this preventative measure.

Breast cancer can strike at any age. Now 23, TikTok start Eliza Paterson, was diagnosed with cancer at age 19. Paterson is a scary reminder of the need to encourage young women early, and often, to be vigilant about breast self-exams. Older women, too, for that matter. These few examples reinforce the importance of screening. Don’t put off the self-exam or the mammogram—doing so may greatly improve your outcome and survivorship odds.

While the dawning of 2020 began with great promise and high hopes that were quickly dashed by COVID-19. The pandemic has upended cancer care by causing treatment delays and forcing patients and providers to transition to telehealth appointments. It has also shone a bright light on disparities in care and poorer outcomes for African Americans, in particular. Take, for example, the recent headline, “Death rates are 40% higher in black women with breast cancer than white counterparts.” The field of radiation oncology has much work do to in this area.

According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival rate for women with localized breast cancer is 99 percent, 86 percent for women with regional breast cancer, and 27 percent for women with distant breast cancer. Fortunately, breast cancer treatments continue to advance, which means survivorship odds should continue to increase.

If you’re a woman, be your own advocate. If you’re a mom, a grandma, an aunt, a cousin, a niece, a friend, remind all the women in your life to check and get checked. If you’re a dad, a husband, a son, a grandpa, an uncle, a cousin or a friend, share the “check and get checked” mantra to each, and every, woman in your life.


We want to hear from you!

Does your department do anything special for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month? We would love to hear how you bring awareness to the issue.  

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