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More Than Just a Pink Ribbon: Acting On What We Already Know About Breast Cancer

The little pink ribbon we see every October now holds more than just awareness against breast cancer. It has become an international symbol of hope, persistence, and victory, especially to the many breast cancer survivors out there.

Unknown to many, the breast cancer awareness month started way back in 1985 as a partnership between a company’s pharmaceutical division and the American Cancer Society. It was propelled further globally because of the participation of former first lady Betty Ford, a breast cancer survivor herself. In 1992, the launch of the pink ribbon as a symbolic visual reminder for the breast cancer awareness month was premiered by Estee Lauder cosmetics.

In 2020 alone, breast cancer was detected in 2.3 million women globally and claimed the lives of 685,000 women. It was noted to be the world’s most prevalent cancer because at the end of 2020, a total of 7.8 million women alive were noted to be diagnosed with breast cancer within the past five years.

This breast cancer awareness month, what it is that we need to remember? The main reason for the decrease in mortality rates beginning the 1980s was the presence of early detection programs. These programs, combined with improved modes of treatment, were the key to improvement in survival rate.

Breast cancer is not an infectious disease, nor is it contagious. There are no known infection-related links to breast cancer. Risks that are associated with breast cancer include the following:

  • Female

  • Increasing age

  • Alcohol use

  • Strong family history of breast cancer

  • History of exposure to radiation

  • Reproductive history (related to the age when menstrual periods began as well as the age at first pregnancy)

  • Hormone therapy

  • Cigarette smoking and tobacco use

The sad thing is, despite the control of risk factors, studies have shown that control only reduces risk by 30%. There are other behavioral interventions that can be done to discourage and delay the onset of breast cancer, such as the following:

  • Prolonged breastfeeding

  • Weight control and regular physical activity

Regular vigorous physical activity has been noted to decrease the risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer significantly. And because a lot of breast cancer patients are pointed out to have no risk factors at all, it is best never to be complacent and constantly monitor oneself for any painless lumps or nipple discharges.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let’s do things right.

First and foremost: get yourself checked! There might be things that you have overlooked, but fret not – early detection is key to better survival. With around 1 in 7 females afflicted with the disease, it is safe to assume that almost all women know someone who has breast cancer. And do not limit this to yourself – encourage family members and friends to have themselves checked as well. The best way to do this is to set an example yourself for them to look up to and follow.

Second: the pink ribbon is there for a reason, so make sure you buy pink products that contribute significantly to breast cancer research. We all know that excellent research makes everything expensive – especially the treatments. Thus, supporting research this way will at least, or perhaps, lower costs for the implementation of clinical trials. Just make sure the company you are supporting is very transparent with the funds. Otherwise, look for another company that can help you achieve this advocacy.

Third: help breast cancer survivors. Do you know someone who has just finished treatments and just started a business? Support that business. Do you know someone who is still trying to get back up after a series of chemotherapy cycles? Lend a hand.

Fourth: if you have extra, donate directly to research. And be proactive about it! One of the most pressing issues today is the apparent racial disparities between breast cancer treatment outcomes. These disparities cause treatment delays especially in women of color. Specific initiatives are already in place as the battle between these disparities continues. What you can do – reach out to them directly and see how you can make donations or support them in any way you can.

It is high time that the pink ribbon will signify more than just a simple information drive aimed at raising awareness on breast cancer. It is high time that the pink ribbon will begin to signify a call to action such that everyone takes part and does their role in preventing the disease.

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