Yes, you read that headline correctly. I am a breast surgical oncologist and I don’t particularly like pink. Every October I am reminded why some breast cancer survivors don’t like pink either.
Pink is a constant reminder of the fight: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone suppression. And those are just the medical treatments. Not to mention the emotional roller coaster, countless appointments, medical bills, time away from family, body image struggles, battles with intimacy, etc. I could go on and on.
Just when you think you’re making progress and moving on…BOOM, there are the pink ribbons everywhere. It can be hard to get away and move on with life. Breast cancer awareness month can be a lot to handle for our patients.
Don’t get me wrong, breast cancer awareness is an important fight. The sudden influx of pink ribbons on billboards, professional sports jerseys, social media posts, television advertisements, etc. helps promote surveillance and early detection. In fact, it is a very effective way to get the word out. Screening mammograms increase substantially during the month of October.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, with 1 in 8 women in the United States diagnosed during their lifetime. That’s a huge number. In 2021, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 330,840 women diagnosed and 43,600 will die. These are our family members, friends, and coworkers, those that we love and respect.
Thankfully, most breast cancer caught early (localized to the breast) has a five-year survival rate of 99%. In cases of regional disease (lymph node involvement), survival decreases to 86%. If there is distant metastatic disease (spread to another organ), the survival is 28% at five years. Regardless of stage at presentation, there are a variety of treatment options. These numbers illustrate how important early detection and awareness are to good outcomes. (statistics credit to American Cancer Society)
This October, I urge everyone to take a minute to think a bit differently about pink. Not everyone sees a pink ribbon the same way. There are 11 other months every year when my patients, my colleagues, and I are always fighting.
Mammograms save lives. Please get yours done. And, it doesn’t have to be in October. Find the time and take care of yourself.
Dr. Laura Hafertepen is a breast surgical oncologist affiliated with the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at The Medical Center of Aurora, Swedish Medical Center and HealthONE.