By Yonni Wattenmaker
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide. A diagnosis is made every 14 seconds and early detection is critical. Mammography is the most readily available and effective screening tool for detecting breast cancer, though certainly not perfect, and when these cancers are caught early – through this screening technology and others – there is an approximately 90% survival rate.
So why am I writing about breast cancer in March rather than October? While October may be National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, diagnoses occur all year long. March is also National Women’s History Month, an ideal time to remind women to take charge of their health and prioritize self-care.
As part of its three-pronged mission, Breast Cancer Alliance is committed to improving survival rates and quality of life for those impacted by breast cancer. It is through our annual grants that we pursue our mission. For 2023, BCA has awarded over $1.5 million to innovative research, to specialized training of future breast surgeons, and to eliminating barriers of access to quality breast health care for underserved patients. Among the notable winners are Greenwich Hospital, Stamford Hospital, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Mt. Sinai, Rutgers Cancer Institute of NJ, Dana Farber Cancer Center, Columbia University, Weill Cornell Medical Center, University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard.
There are many myths about mammography, and one of the reasons some women decline to go for regular screenings is their fear of radiation. Raymond J. Activate, Ph.D., a 2022 BCA Young Investigator grant recipient, has this to say on the topic:
“Although mammography uses radiation, this should not discourage any woman from being screened. It is important to think about mammography both in terms of its risks and its benefits. These have been studied extensively. A notable study by Yaffe and Mainprize1 found that the benefits of screening in terms of early cancer detection greatly outweigh the long-term risks of the radiation used.”
Many women do not have access to mammography, ultrasounds, biopsies or MRI because they either lack insurance, cannot afford the copays associated with the insurance they do have, or face other socioeconomic barriers to receiving care. This is why BCA has provided grants to institutions removing those obstacles for over 25 years.
As Barbara Fingleton Ph.D. of Vanderbilt University, a 2022 Exceptional Project grant recipient, explains: “There have been some great advances and tools, particularly in the area of screening that should really help move toward eradication. However, there are still huge gaps in the availability of screening and the necessary follow-up. Disadvantaged communities are particularly under-served in this regard. More efforts to make screening easily available in a way that doesn’t require someone to take time off work, are really needed. Along with this, there needs to be a lot more education specifically targeted to younger women (and also men) so that cancers occurring in younger, pre-screening aged people are not ignored.”
In addition to getting a mammogram, there are other steps you can take to promote breast health. This includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle, exercising regularly, and being aware of any changes in your breast tissue. If you notice any lumps or abnormalities, be sure to consult with your doctor right away.
Breast cancer diagnoses will strike one in eight women and one in 833 men. By getting involved with BCA and supporting our work, we can better accomplish our mission and save more lives. How? One way is to share your story with us so we can share it more broadly, helping to inspire others on a similar journey. If you play poker, at any level, join us on March 30th for a friendly tournament at Townhouse Greenwich. If fitness is more your style, or you’d like to participate as a family, save the date of Sunday, May 7 for our 5K for Hope. 100% of all entry fees and donations will be donated to our grants that help those disadvantaged patients get the care they need. A full list of our events and more information can be found at Breastcanceralliance.org/events.
I hope to see you!
Footnote 1: Radiology 2011 Jan; 258(1):98-105. doi: 10.1148/radiol.10100655
Yonni Wattenmaker has served as Executive Director Breast Cancer Alliance since June 2011, one of the highest-rated and most prominent national breast cancer charities. In 2019 she was honored to be named one of “40 Fascinating Women” by WAG Magazine and a “Woman Who Inspires” by the YWCA in 2021. Yonni is also a certified health coach and founder of yonappetit.com.