October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Chances are, you already knew that. Thanks to adopting the color pink, coming up with some catchphrases that are all over bumper stickers, shirts and billboards, and doing an amazing job getting the word out about the disease, numerous charitable organizations have raised billions and billions for research and treatment. And the awareness raised that has inspired women to get regular mammograms has saved countless lives.
Still, an estimated 268,600 women in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, and some 42,260 deaths (41,760 women and 500 men) from breast cancer will occur. The good news is that, since 1989, the number of women who have died of breast cancer has steadily decreased. That is thanks to early detection and treatment improvements.
The 5-year survival rate for women with invasive breast cancer is 90%. That number is closer to 99% if the cancer is located only in the breast, underscoring the importance of regular screenings to catch it before it has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. For that reason, we point out that Friday, Oct. 18 is National Mammography Day, when women are encouraged to make an appointment for a mammogram, and that the fourth annual Mammothon, a LifeBridge Health program that makes mammograms more accessible, will take place on Nov. 7 at at seven Maryland locations, including the Center for Breast Health at Carroll Hospital, Advanced Radiology in Eldersburg and Community Radiology Associates in Mount Airy.
Since 2011, the Times has dedicated an edition each October to raising awareness. It started as a breast cancer awareness “pink paper,” but after the second year we changed it to “cancer awareness” because while the funds and awareness being raised for breast cancer were and are making a tremendous difference, other cancers need more of both.
Nearly four times as many Americans — approximately 143,000 according to the National Cancer Institute — will die of lung cancer this year than breast cancer. More will also die of colon and rectal cancer (about 51,000) and pancreatic cancer (some 46,000). Terribly significant numbers will also die of liver and prostate cancer, leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphona, and bladder, kidney and endometrial cancer.
More than likely, you don’t know what color to wear for those cancers or what month is dedicated to them. For that reason, you may be less likely to donate. And, significantly, less likely to get screened. That’s why in addition to stories of survivors and previews of events raising money and awareness such as the Making Strides Walk and the Pink Fling, we try to use our cancer awareness issue to encourage everyone to follow medical protocols for screening of all cancers.
For example, in addition to breast cancer, women should be acutely aware and having conversations with their primary care doctors about screenings for lung, colon and cervix cancer, Dr. Jessica Medani, who sees patients at the Mount Airy Health & Wellness Pavilion, told us. More people die from lung cancer than any other form. Men and women who have a history of heavy smoking and are currently smoking, or have quit within the last 15 years, may want to undergo a low-dose computerized tomography (CT) scan at age 55, Medani said. She also encourages getting the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine as it serves to protect young women — and men — from a variety of cancers.
Colorectal cancer is the third-most common type of cancer in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that if everyone 50 or older had regular screenings for colon cancer, as many as 60% of the deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented. The American Cancer Society now recommends that average-risk Americans begin — and keep up — screenings for colon and rectal cancer starting at age 45.
Nearly 10,000 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every single day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Physician assistant Brenda Schneider, of Westminster Dermatology, recommends wearing sunscreen all year long, in any type of weather. A person between the ages of 20 and 40 should get their skin checked every three years, then yearly after age 40, according to Schneider.
All of the above is just a sampling of what we learned doing reporting for our cancer awareness edition. We hope you will read our coverage and heed the advice given by medical professionals regarding prevention and screening. Awareness and early detection of all cancers is crucial.