October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Updated: Oct 30
Breast cancer is a disease that affects 1 in 8 women in America. Women from all walks of life have been affected by breast cancer, from First Lady Betty Ford to comedian Tig Notaro. A breast cancer diagnosis is life-changing for any woman and her family. It is the beginning of a long and daunting process that is more than overwhelming. Many of us know someone who has fought or is currently fighting breast cancer, but the cancer's most prominent appearance is a wave of pink that hits in October.
The designation of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month began in 1985. Kicked off by Betty Ford, it was a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical branch of Imperial Chemical Industries. The first campaign to use the now famous pink ribbon was conducted by Esteé Lauder in 1992. 1.5 million pink ribbons were handed out at makeup counters all across America. Since then, the pink ribbon can be found stamped on many products to promote breast cancer awareness. In 2000, Esteé Lauder launched the Global Illumination Project, in which landmarks across the globe are illuminated in pink for at least one day in October. Originally, the goal of the campaign was to educate women on breast cancer and encourage screenings. However, today it has become a chance for survivors to tell their stories and raise money for research.
As with most issues, the pandemic has affected breast cancer as well - breast cancer patients have found their care sidelined as the world has adapted to these unprecedented times. According to ABC news, breast cancer screenings were down 63% between March and June. Breast cancer patients are also at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications because many treatments compromise the immune system; certain chemotherapies and targeted therapies can attack the lungs creating a risk for complications. Additionally, treatment has been complicated by the pandemic: in an online survey conducted by Breastcancer.org, 86% of respondents said their care had been delayed. Reconstruction surgeries in particular have been delayed due to the extensive hospital recovery time required to perform them. In a similar survey done by the American Cancer Society, 1 in 4 respondents said that it had been harder to contact a healthcare provider. Due to social distancing guidelines, many patients have only been able to contact health care providers via telemedicine, phone, or online video.
Recently, the topic of healthcare has been raised for discussion as the confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice looms near. The appointment of Amy Coney Barrett may threaten the Affordable Care Act, which covers mammograms, appointments with genetic counselors, and preventive medicine for women over 40—key ways for women at a higher risk for breast cancer to take care of their health. Cancer treatments, especially clinical trials, can be costly and the ACA protects participating patients from losing coverage.
While hundreds of men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, the disease affects women at much higher rates. The month of October is an important time to spread awareness about this condition affecting millions of women across the globe. To aid in the search for a cure, donate to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation or the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund.