Editorial: Breast cancer awareness push is making difference
10/18/2013 - The Herald-Dispatch
HUNTINGTON - Each October we see a little more pink and a lot more life.
The campaign for greater awareness about breast cancer has been more than 100 years in the making, but the great strides made in recent years are very encouraging.
For centuries, the discovery of breast cancer was a death sentence that women often kept hidden as long as they could. It was only in the late 1800s that medicine began to develop viable treatments and promote the value of early detection.
But the "pink ribbon" movement that started in the mid-1980s has taken awareness to a whole new level with a range of national promotions and dozens of local activities each fall.
The good news is, it's working.
The American Cancer Society reports that death rates from breast cancer in the United States have dropped 34 percent since 1990. The organization estimates there are about 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States today, including both women now being treated and those who have completed treatment.
Local health providers are happy to say that means the invitation lists are getting longer for the cancer survivor celebrations held each fall.
"It grows every year," Marsha Dillow of Cabell Huntington Hospital said at an event this week. "Patients are living longer and are getting better treatment early on."
Those success stories also help to encourage and inspire the women who have begun their own battles with cancer.
"I had so many people come up to me in the hallways at St. Mary's and say, 'I'm a survivor, if there's anything I can do to help," said Ronna Woods, a medical social worker who spoke about her experience at a luncheon the Medical Center hosted earlier this month.
But it is important to remember that we still have a long way to go.
Breast cancer remains the second most common type of cancer among American women, with skin cancers the most common, with an estimated one of every eight women developing invasive breast cancer during their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.
Although many things affect survival rates, the biggest factor is often how sick a women is when she is first diagnosed
So, early detection is critical.
Unfortunately, there are still too many women who do not get the recommended screenings that help with that. Recent surveys show that about 70 percent of women over 50 report having had mammogram in the last two years, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control. Reaching the other 30 percent is a challenge that will involve better education, access to primary care and broader health insurance coverage.
Thanks to all of the local and national efforts this month that help remind us of the progress made and the work still to be done.