October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Most people mean well when they support it, but there’s more than meets the eye. Think Pink or Pink Matters. These empty expressions mean nothing and offer no direction. Over time, an industry has grown that thrives on pinkness and raising awareness, however, the number of individuals dying from the disease has not changed significantly. Breast cancer kills about 42,000 women and 520 men in the United States each year. Awareness alone won’t save them.
The October awareness campaign also talks about the best protection is early detection or early detection saves lives — be sure to have that annual mammogram, the presumption being that catching breast tumors when they are small gives you control. But mammograms have become so sensitive that they find the smallest cancers (Stage 0), which might never pose a health threat to a woman during her lifetime. These women are subject to surgery, chemotherapy and radiation for cancers that might never have harmed them. Overdiagnosis and overtreatment do not stop breast cancer death. But they do cause collateral damage.
There are two groups that do productive work towards ending breast cancer. The National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) views ending breast cancer more as a political than a medical problem. They want advocates to contact their senators and legislators to advocate for passing legislation. One concrete action would be to urge our representatives to support the Metastatic Breast Cancer Access to Care Act, H.R. 2178 and S.1374. Breast Cancer Action (BCA) is a watchdog organization that alerts to toxins in the environment that increase the risk of breast cancer. They have called out the Environmental Protection Agency for prioritizing profit at the expense of the environment and the National Cancer Institute for downplaying the links between exposure to environmental toxins and breast cancer.
A pink ribbon never changed a life, but meaningful action has. The NBCC reminds us in its “Stop the Clock” campaign that every 13 minutes a woman dies of breast cancer. Get on their mailing list at stopbreastcancer.org or bca.org and be constructively aware every month, not just in October. Start this November!