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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month Around the World

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Billed as the most common cancer in women, breast cancer is impacting the lives of one in eight women in the United States. The second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer, breast cancer most commonly occurs in women 50 years of age and older. Breast cancer is caused by a genetic mutation in the DNA of breast cancer cells but how or why this damage occurs isn’t fully understood. Some mutations may develop randomly over time, while others are inherited or may be the result of environmental exposures or lifestyle factors. More than 3.5 million women are living in the U.S. with a history of breast cancer.

Early detection remains the most important factor in the successful treatment and survivability of breast cancer. Caught early when known treatments have the best chance of success, breast cancer is survivable. Successful treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy. “Risk factors include being female, obesity, a lack of physical exercise, drinking alcohol, hormone replacement therapy during menopause, ionizing radiation, early age at first menstruation, having children late or not at all, older age, and family history.” With the clear lack of knowledge for its causes, early detection of the disease remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) was founded in 1985 by the American cancer Society and what is now known as AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals. Held each October, the event is an attempt to increase the awareness of breast cancer and to aid the solicitation of funds for research and treatment of the disease. NBCAM unites cancer organizations around the world in providing information and support for those suffering from the cancer. Breast Cancer Awareness is represented by the display of pink ribbons, first introduced by the Susan G. Komen Foundation at its New York City race for breast cancer survivors in 1991.

The effort by so many to bring worldwide attention to the disease appears to be having a positive impact. A new report from the American Cancer Society finds that death rates from breast cancer in the United States have dropped 39% between 1989 and 2015. The overall declines in breast cancer death rates have been attributed to both improvements in treatment and early detection by mammograms. The American Cancer Society recommends women find breast cancer earlier when treatments are more likely to be effective. While there is a lack or definite agreement on when and how often screening is most effective, The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends annual screening beginning at age 40.

The professional team of oncologists and staff at Gettysburg Cancer Center supports the efforts of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in its world-wide goal to provide the latest information, research, treatment options and support for those who suffer from breast cancer.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: CANCER AWARENESS MONTH

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Cancer awareness month has its origin in the 1980’s when a small grassroots organization, Susan G. Komen, was formed to raise money and public awareness for breast cancer. The group created the now famous pink ribbon in order to create “brand awareness” for breast cancer and to generate much needed funding for cancer research, early detection and ultimately the diseases eventual cure.

The breast cancer program’s success spawned an important and growing expansion of the awareness campaign to cancers across the diseases spectrum. Many non-profit cancer organizations have gravitated towards the goals of the program and have originated specific colors and month of the year to represent their individual identities. The month of May represents three brands of cancers; Brain Cancer, Melanoma/ Skin Cancer and Bladder Cancer.

Brain tumors are growths of abnormal cells in tissues which originate in the brain or spinal cord. Tumors may be benign or malignant and affect nearby areas of the head and neck but rarely spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms vary and are dependent upon where the tumor forms, its size, how fast it is growing, and the age of the patient. More than 150,000 people are living with brain cancer with less than one percent of men and women likely to experience brain and nervous system cancer in their lifetime. Nearly 34 percent of brain cancer victims can expect to survive five years or more with early detection and aggressive treatment. Brain cancer is an extremely complex disease requiring a team of multi specialists including oncologist, primary care physicians and radiation oncologist. Each patient treatment protocol depends on the location of the tumor, its size and type, the patient’s age, and the overall medical condition of the patient. Brain Cancer is represented by the color grey in the month of May.

Melanoma, represented by the color black, is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and is most often caused by over exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds. Cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells initiate mutations that multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. Discovered in its early stages and treated, skin cancer is almost always curable. But left untreated it can advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal. Depending on the stage of the disease treatments may include; surgery, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy and radiation.

Bladder Cancer originates when healthy cells in the bladder lining change and grow rapidly forming a tumor. Malignant tumors may spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. The three most common types of bladder cancer are; Urothelial carcinoma, Squamous cell carcinoma and Adenocarcinoma. Represented by the awareness color Marigold/Blue/Purple, bladder cancers are most often detected in patients by the presence of blood in the urine, frequent or burning sensation when urinating or lower back pain. Treatment options include; surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation. Treatment protocols are dependent upon the stage of the cancer, patient’s health, treatment preferences and potential side effects.  Bladder cancer mostly affects older people with an estimated 79,000 adults expected to be diagnosed with bladder cancer in the United States each year. With early detection the 10 year survival rate for bladder cancer is 70 percent.

Increased awareness has had a proven and positive effect on early diagnosis and treatment of various cancers and has resulted in a better educated and prepared patient. Utilizing this marketing approach the stigma once associated with cancer has been greatly diminished.