October time to ‘think pink’

Yesterday’s Albany Herald got quite a few stares from readers.

We printed the newspaper on pink paper to draw attention to a disease that has touched the lives of far too many Southwest Georgians — breast cancer. The pink newspaper was designed to be an attention grabber that would get people — women, especially — thinking about their health as Breast Cancer Awareness Month starts on Saturday.

The Pink Herald was more than a symbolic gesture. A percentage of the advertising dollars realized in Thursday’s Herald will be given to the Cancer Coalition of Southwest Georgia to help with the fine work they do with the residents of our region.

“Every person I’ve met in Southwest Georgia has someone they know that has been touched by cancer,” coalition CEO Diane Fletcher said this week. “It’s an important part of the Cancer Coalition’s work to get the word out.”

Indeed, an individual who has cancer — breast cancer included — has much better prospects for successful treatment and survival the earlier it is detected. This is one area where putting off medical attention because you’re afraid you won’t like the diagnosis can have fatal consequences. It’s human nature to want to put off bad news, but the idea that what you don’t know can’t hurt you is a false security. It’s also a line of thinking that can drastically impact your quality of life and shorten your life altogether.

There have been great advancements in the treatment of cancers, including breast cancer. But the disease is nowhere close to be eradicated. The National Cancer Institute estimates that this year in the United States, 230,480 women and 2,140 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer. (Yes, the disease affects women primarily, but there are instances of man contracting it.) The institute also estimates that 39,520 women and 450 men nationally will die from the disease this year.

Early detection is the key to survival. The American Cancer Society’s guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer vary depending on a woman’s age. The methods of detection include mammography and clinical breast examination. For women who have high risk factors, the organization also recommends a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The ACS suggests that women in their 20s get clinical breast exams at least every three years, with the frequency increasing to annually for asymptomatic women in their 40s. The Society recommends that a woman start having an annual mammogram once she turns 40.

The Cancer Society in 2007 started recommending an MRI for women who are at elevated risk for breast cancer. The downside is that this test is more expensive than a mammogram and there may be some pushback from an insurance company over its necessity. If the woman’s risk of developing breast cancer is deemed to be 15 percent to 20 percent, the ACS says she should consult with her doctor about the benefits and limitations that adding an MRI screening entail. If her risk is greater than 20 percent, the organization recommends adding the MRI screening to the annual exam.

None of these are particularly pleasant thoughts as October and the holiday season approach, but they are important. And they could be critically important to you or someone you care about. October’s traditional colors may be oranges, reds, browns and golds, but it is also a time when every woman would do well to take a moment to Think Pink about her health.