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November 4, 2009

Breast cancer awareness month ends

Scott Stockdale

Scott StockdaleBreast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities every October, to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention and cure.

The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer.

As well as providing a platform for breast cancer charities to raise awareness of their work and of the disease, BCAM is also a prime opportunity to remind women to be aware of the problem.

NBCAM educates women about the importance of early detection. On its website, the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) – the largest national charitable funder of cancer research - said more and more women are getting mammograms to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages. As a result, breast cancer deaths are on the decline.

CCS studies show the breast cancer incidence rate has declined since 1999 and the breast cancer death rate has declined by more than 30% since 1986. The five-year-survival rate has improved 5% over the last 10 years. Today survival for women with breast cancer aged 40-79 is 89%. For women under 40, the survival rate is 82%, excluding Quebec.

Notwithstanding this decline, CCS estimates that 22,700 women in Canada will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and approximately 5,400 will die of it. An estimated 180 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 50 will die of it, this year. 

During the month of October, many organizations in Canada work to raise awareness of breast cancer with projects like:

1. The Quilt: A Breast Cancer Support Project presents 392 donated quilts for auction online. The funds raised support breast cancer support projects across Canada.

2. The annual Run for the Cure took place Sunday, October 2. The funds raised will be allocated to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation to support cancer research, education, diagnosis and treatment across the country.

The CCS encourages women to be proactive in caring for their breast health.

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women,” Heather Logan, Director of Cancer Control Policy, at the CCS said. “We urge Canadian women to learn the facts about this disease. It could save lives.” She stressed that a combination of early detection techniques are the best defense against breast cancer.

The CCS recommends that women have a mammogram every 2 years if they are between the ages of 50 and 69.

And women between the ages of 40 and 49 should discuss their risk of breast cancer and the benefits and risks of mammography with their doctor.

While women 70 or older should talk to their doctor about a screening program; have a clinical breast examination by a trained health professional at least every 2 years, if they are over 40.

And women should consider doing breast self-examination and report changes to their doctors.

During BCAM each October, people raise money by organizing activities such as theme parties or a “pink day”, when employees wear pink clothing or accessories at work. The money raised is donated to the organizers' choice of breast cancer care or research projects.

AstraZeneca, which manufactures breast cancer drugs Arimidex and Tamoxifen, founded the NBCAM in 1985. The number of companies promoting breast cancer awareness had increased substantially over the years.

In 1993, Estee Lauder Companies founded The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and established the Pink Ribbon as its symbol. In the fall of 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation handed out Pink Ribbons to participants in its New York City race for breast cancer survivors. Estee Lauder Companies has also arranged to have more than a dozen world-famous landmarks illuminated in pink light to draw attention to the importance of mammography screening, as well as the research for finding ways to cure and prevent breast cancer.

The term “Pinkwashing” has been used by Breast Cancer Action to describe the actions of companies which manufacture and use chemicals which show a link with breast cancer and at the same time publicly support charities focused on curing the disease. Other criticisms center on the marketing of “pink products” and tie ins, citing that more money is spent marketing these campaigns than is donated to the cause.

The Race for a Cure is an example of a NBCAM campaign event which has attracted widespread support. It began in October 1983, in Dallas, Texas, with 800 participants and grew to 1.3million participants in 2002, in over 100 U.S. Cities. The event is also being held in other parts of the world.

Meanwhile, The Cancer Prevention Coalition has criticized the basic message of NBCAM as a form of victim blaming because it focuses on early detection and treatment while ignoring environmental factors. 

According to Aaron Blair, PhD, chief of the Occupational Epidemiology Branch in National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, for breast cancer, hormone use is one of the major factors affecting risk.

Critics claim that drug, chemical and biotechnology companies have a vested interest treating the disease rather than finding ways to minimize it rate of incidence.

Recent studies show that breast cancer is linked to several environmental and genetic factors which can be controlled or mitigated.

Scott Stockdale is a freelance writer based in Toronto. 

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