Think Pink: A look into Breast Cancer Awareness as we Conclude October Breast Cancer Awareness Month

For the past month, you’ve probably noticed an infusion of the color pink intermixed throughout your day-to-day life. You know, the pink signs and posters in storefront windows. The pink clothes on sale in retail stores at the mall. The pink cookies at the grocery store. The pink apparel worn by NFL players during Steelers games. The pink pins, ribbons, and bracelets your friends and family proudly wear each day.

Because in October, pink is all over.

As you likely know, pink is the color associated with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which annually comes to the forefront throughout the month of October. It’s a staple over the 31-day span, signifying an effort to take steps toward finding a cure for a disease that takes the lives of over 41,000 women each year in the United States. Most of us probably know someone who has been affected by breast cancer in one form or another – whether it’s their own diagnosis or the diagnosis of someone close to them – and have been forced to face the battle head-on.

Notable breast cancer statistics via Breastcancer.org include: 

  • About 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. 
  • In 2019, an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the United States. 
  • For U.S. women, breast cancer death rates are the second highest among any form of cancer – trailing only lung cancer. 
  • A woman’s risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed. 
  • As of January 2019, more than 3.1 million women have a history of breast cancer in the United States. 

Ethnic Disparities

There are disparities across ethnic lines when it pertains to breast cancer. The rates are slightly higher in white women compared to African American women, albeit African Americans have a higher rate in women under 45 years old. African American women are also alarmingly 42% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. The reasoning behind it is continuously under study, but could derive from socioeconomic, environmental, genetic, and possible primary tumor biologic factors.

In essence, tumor biology varies by race, with triple-negative breast cancers being three times more frequent among African American women than women of any other ethnicity. Some studies attribute it to early childbirth, lower rates of breastfeeding, and Body Mass Indexes (BMI) before Menopause. But overall, triple-negative tumors are rare, difficult to treat and more aggressive; causing a lower chance of making a full recovery. In February, some advocacy groups celebrate Black History Month by spreading awareness for triple-negative breast cancer.

Not Just a Female Fight 

To the surprise of many, breast cancer isn’t gender-specific to females. Men can indeed develop the disease, too. It’s a lot less common, with only 2,670 new invasive diagnoses and 500 deaths expected in 2019, but just as serious nonetheless. Most male breast cancer cases are categorized as Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), which occurs when cancerous cells form in the tissue around the breast. Treatment options are similar to those for women.

A recent high-profile case of male breast cancer came from Beyoncé and Solange Knowles’ father, Matthew Knowles, who revealed on Good Morning America that he was diagnosed with the disease after noticing blood on his white T-shirt around the breast area. Knowles had his breast surgically removed, and pinpointed the cause of cancer to genetic history on his mother’s side of the family, where his maternal aunt and two cousins died of the disease.

Knowles has since become an advocate for men to speak out about their own battles.

Hope for the Future

The battle against breast cancer is certainly a scary and difficult experience for one to endure.

But … it can be won. My mother fought and won this battle five years ago.

In fact, breast cancer mortality rates have declined by 40 percent since 1989 – particularly in women under 50. This is because of new technology, routine screenings for early diagnosis, and advanced treatment plans that have led to significant strides toward combating the disease. In addition, the formation of advocacy groups has greatly aided in awareness efforts and increased funding. For example, the Susan G. Komen Foundation has donated more than $998 million in groundbreaking research and $2.2 billion in education, screening and treatment throughout 60 countries worldwide.

In conclusion, the importance of undergoing regular check-ups for breast cancer has never been higher. With early detection, treatment plans can be put in place to stop cancer from spreading, thus lowering the chances of death. In addition, don’t forget to explore your genetic history. With the help of medical professionals, you can discover if you or your family are more prone to the disease, and take the appropriate steps to protect yourself.

Even those who don’t have cancer can help, too. You can do your part to spread awareness by participating in community events, giving monetary donations to authorized foundations, and continuing to proudly wear pink not just through October, but year-round as well. 

And never forget, we’re all in this together. No one should fight this battle alone.