Remember when you said, "Maybe next year?" Well, it is next year, and if you are a woman over 40, now is the time to schedule that annual clinical breast exam you have been putting off.
Thousands of women and men across the country are donning pink ribbons this month to remind us that October is "National Breast Cancer Awareness Month."
The ribbons signify their commitment to increased public awareness and funding for breast cancer education and research. For those who have been directly or indirectly touched by breast cancer, the ribbons have special meaning. One pink ribbon can speak volumes.
Breast cancer is one of the most common, serious cancers a woman can encounter. Excluding cancers of the skin, breast cancer affects more women than any other type of cancer.
When breast cancer strikes, it is no longer considered to be just the woman's issue, said Analee E. Beisecker, director of behavioral and social sciences at the Kansas Cancer Institute in the Kansas University Medical Center.
"Breast cancer affects the woman's family, her friends and often the larger community," Beisecker said. "It is heartwarming to see the network of volunteers and professionals throughout the country who have been brought together by their common concern for more intensified breast cancer research and education."
The probability that a woman will develop breast cancer or die from it is one in eight. Figures recently released by the American Cancer Society, or ACS, project an estimated 184,300 new cases of invasive breast cancer this year among women in the United States. In Kansas and Missouri, those numbers are estimated at 1,800 and 3,600, respectively.
The incidence of breast cancer and the death rate from this disease increase with age. In fact, about 77 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are older than 50.
While research programs provide hope for the future, breast cancer cannot be currently prevented. However, early detection can save lives.
That's why the ACS recommends a clinical breast exam every three years for women between the ages of 20 and 40, and every year for those over 40. Monthly breast self-examination is a good routine health habit for women 20 years and older.
According to the National Cancer Institute, women 50 and older should have a mammogram every year. Mammography is a low-dose X-ray procedure that allows visualization of the internal structure of the breast. It has been shown to significantly reduce breast cancer deaths by at least 30 percent in women 50 and older.
With early detection as her focus, Beisecker, a nationally recognized expert on breast cancer, recently directed a project to promote breast cancer awareness and early detection. Her efforts, coupled with those from individuals at the Kansas Cancer Institute, KU Med Center and the Kansas State Cooperative Extension Service at Kansas State University, resulted in the production of a video titled, "Our Mothers, Our Daughters, Our Sisters, Ourselves."
"This 24-minute video focuses on risk factors and early detection of breast cancer," Beisecker said. "It is available free of charge to any group that is interested in learning more about women's health issues."
The video can be obtained by calling the Kansas Cancer Institute at (913) 588-4715.
Early detection has been instrumental in increasing the five-year survival rate for localized breast cancer from 78 percent in the 1940s to 96 percent today.
Now do you remember when you said "Maybe next year?" Well?
-- Patricia C. Adams is development director for the Kansas Cancer Institute at the Kansas University Medical Center.