By: Gail Bursmeister and Betsy Campbell

During the month of October, which has been nationally known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month for almost 30 years, there is much publicity about the issue of breast cancer detection, treatment and prevention. This health campaign is in the forefront of promoting awareness of breast cancer issues and has evolved along with the national dialogue on breast cancer.

In the United States in 2006, (the most recent year for which statistics are available), 191,410 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,820 women died from the disease. Despite the fact there have been great strides in breast cancer treatment; there remains much to be accomplished.

It’s a common misconception that breast cancer is just a woman’s issue. While it is more common in women, females do have more breast tissue, men can and do get breast cancer. Breast Cancer can be found in the lymph nodes, up to the clavicle and collar bone and down under the arms.  

Although more white women get breast cancer, more black women die from it. Why? Some of the reasons for the racial disparity are lack of medical insurance or unequal access to screening, early detection and the latest cancer treatments. More studies are being done looking at this disparity in breast incidence and deaths – and seeking reasons why. Further, as health care costs increase, women with breast cancer are facing mounting out-of-pocket costs for treatment. Women are frequently forced to make decision based on their finances and not always on what is best for their health.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month encourages women to take charge of their own breast health by practicing regular self-breast exams to identify changes, scheduling regular visits and annual mammograms with their healthcare provider, continuing with medically prescribed treatments and knowing the facts about recurrence.

During October, wear pink, the color that symbolizes prevention, treatment and finding a cure for breast cancer. Awareness is key to more screenings and earlier detection. Check your local papers and breast cancer websites to find local events to support the effort. The Web site is a year round resource for breast cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and the general public.

It should be noted that according to American Cancer Society, fewer women are dying from breast cancer now than twenty years ago, largely due to early detection and treatment. This is also due to increased awareness and access to screening services. There is a good chance that someone you may know personally, or perhaps yourself is affected by this disease. It is important to promote awareness and a supportive network to begin the healing process for individuals affected by not only this disease, but also to expand public dialogue about other health problems and diseases that affect women.

Gail Burmeister, RN MSN, Special Case Manager, CCS-GHPP-Regional Center, Partnership HealthPlan of California which is a member of the Solano Coalition for Better Health. And Betsy Campbell, MPH, HC #881 is Senior Health Educator, Health Services Department- Health Education & Cultural & Linguistic, Partnership HealthPlan of California.