America the Pink

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I know — it’s hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t be aware of breast cancer. You’d have to be living under a rock to not know it exists, what with all the walks, marches, bike rides, and pink merchandise to buy to show your support and help raise funds for research. Even the NFL offers special breast cancer awareness “gear”, since nothing puts the kibosh on breast cancer better than a Steelers zip-front hoodie.

Maybe we should call it Breast Cancer Attention Month instead. It seems to me that simple awareness isn’t sufficient. We need full-on attention, and if the pinking of America gets us to pay attention, more power to it. After all, breast cancer is the second most common cancer in American women (skin cancer is first) and the second most deadly cancer in women (lung cancer is first). Scary stuff.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2016:

  • Approximately 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
  • Approximately 61,000 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
  • Approximately 40,450 women will die from breast cancer.[1]

Even one death is one too many. The good news is that death rates from breast cancer have been dropping since about 1989, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. These decreases are believed to be the result of finding breast cancer earlier through screening and increased awareness, as well as better treatments.[2] Regular screening improves the likelihood that cancer will be caught in its early stages, when it is easier and less costly to treat, and with a higher chance of a cure.

My attention to breast cancer is made simpler by being built into my health care – my health insurance plan allows me to have a mammogram every year, so I do. It’s not the most comfortable procedure due to extreme flattening, but it’s quick and non-invasive. Although I might take comfort in the fact that my family history with breast cancer is, to my knowledge, limited to a couple of very aged aunts, 85% of breast cancers are found in women with no family history of the disease.[3] Let’s face it: at the end of the day, no one is immune to breast cancer (not even men). I’m thankful to have access to screening and always relieved to get that “benign – no cancer found” report.

Everyone deserves this peace of mind, including people without health insurance. Mercy Health Clinic works to enable female patients 50 – 75 years old get a mammogram at least every two years, in accordance with standards set by the Primary Care Coalition and HEDIS (Healthcare Effectiveness and Data Information Set). During the most recent quarter for which statistics have been compiled, Mercy is proud that 66% of eligible women patients received this screening, placing the clinic near the top of Montgomery County’s safety net clinics.[4]

As you’re paying attention to breast cancer this month, don’t forget that when October ends and we move on to some other health observance, breast cancer will still be around. If you’d like to help support Mercy’s work to help low-income women stay a step ahead of breast cancer, click here. And then maybe check out that hoodie.

—- Pam Saussy, Board Member


[1] American Cancer Society

[2] American Cancer Society


[4] Q2/2016 performance statistics.