Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Breast Cancer Awareness Month
I can clearly remember meeting my mother-in-law Karen for the first time, and the pink ribbons that were prominently featured among her treasured possessions. She was a 15-year breast cancer survivor, proud of the battle she’d won and grateful for the gift of time that allowed her to be part of each of her three son’s weddings, and to meet six of her grandbabies.
October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about the need for early detection, screenings, access to care, and funding to help identify new medical interventions. Aside from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. About 276,480 new cases are diagnosed annually according to the American Cancer Society. Breast cancer can affect men as well, with over 2,600 men being diagnosed annually in the US. For both women and men, early detection is critical to allow for proper diagnosis, treatment, and improved prognosis.
Research conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Oncology, and others identify racial disparities in breast cancer diagnoses and outcomes. Black and minority women have lower rates of survival and higher rates of being diagnosed with late-stage disease. Frequently cited contributors include biological factors such as physical and mental health comorbidities, and late-stage diagnosis. Socioeconomic drivers include delayed screening, care, and treatment; employment status; and inadequate insurance coverage. These factors make the need to expand early detection and access to care even more critical for Black, indigenous, and people of color.
In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, many patients delayed mammograms, annual visits, and even treatments due to fear of infection, potentially missing the opportunity for early interventions and improved prognosis. While the pandemic has led to innovative advancements in health care delivery, including increased telehealth, and on-site safety protocols, these innovations do not address current gaps in health care. Seniors, racial and ethnic minorities, and individuals of lower socioeconomic status or from rural communities face greater challenges due to the digital divide. As a result, the transition to telehealth during this time may create and/or worsen existing disparities, especially for women from vulnerable populations.
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and every month after, it is important to learn more about your risk factors and have a wellness plan. There are many risk factors you can change, including diet, exercise, and alcohol consumption. Remember to schedule regular wellness visits and breast cancer screenings/mammograms with your doctor, and conduct self-exams. To help others, it’s important to share screening resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program that provides screening and diagnostic services to low-income, uninsured and underserved women. Also consider volunteering or fundraising for organizations focused on providing direct outreach to medically underserved communities. Some examples include:
Serving DC Metro Region
Remember that if you would like to donate to breast cancer research organizations to continue to expand treatment options and support for cancer patients, ERPi will match dollar for dollar, up to $1,000 each year.
My mother-in-law lost her second battle with breast cancer in 2009, 15 years after she battled back from what was a bleak prognosis. Our family is so grateful for that time, and wish we could have had more. Karen was such an advocate for breast cancer awareness, as she wanted so badly for others to join her in remission and beat cancer. If she were here today, she would encourage us all to wear pink to spread awareness, to get screenings, and to make healthy choices. She would also encourage us to share laughter and hugs with the ones we love each and every day.
Brittany McMaster, Director