This year we saw the NFL and White House go pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. As the 25th year of Breast Cancer Awareness month comes to close, it’s incredible to look back and see how far we have come over the past 25 years in promoting awareness and early detection as well as in the advances in treatment of this disease.
Cases of breast cancer are documented throughout history with the earliest reports dating back to Ancient Egypt in 1600 BC. However, it wasn’t until the 17th Century in Europe that an understanding of the disease began to take place. It was during this time that the first surgeries to remove the breast tumor, breast muscle and lymph nodes were performed to eradicate the disease from the body. In 1882, William Stewart Halsted performed the first mastectomy, the Halstead Radical Mastectomy, which remained a popular treatment up until the 1970’s. While this form of surgical treatment is rarely used today, there are three variations of Halstead’s procedure performed to remove breast tumors: partial mastectomy (also called lumpectomy), modified radical mastectomy, and the rarely used total simple mastectomy.
The movement to increase breast cancer research and awareness did not take off until the 20th century. It was in 1952 that the American Cancer Society created the Reach to Recovery program, a group of women who would travel to hospitals to support patients who had mastectomies performed. This program remains in effect today.
By the 1970’s, breast cancer advocacy began to increase rapidly as more non-profit organizations and governmental organizations formed to increase knowledge and awareness as well as to sponsor research to aid in eradication of the disease. Over the last two decades, major breakthroughs in detection and treatment modalities have been made.
The first step to early detection was the development of modern mammography in 1969, when the first x-ray units dedicated to breast imaging were available. By 1976, mammography as a screening device became standard practice. Mammograms are the best radiographic method available today as they can detect tumors that are too small to be felt. To increase early detection the Mammography Quality Standards Act was passed by Congress in 1992 to ensure that all women have equal access to quality mammography for detection of breast cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages as well as to improve the quality of mammography facilities. When breast cancer is detected, modern treatment typically involves a combination of surgery and medical treatment with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or hormone therapy. Advances in such treatments have resulted in increased five year survival rates. Patients who get treatment in the early stages of breast cancer have a five year survival rate of 80% or better. Despite treatment advances, the most important thing for breast cancer survival is early detection through monthly self-checks and yearly mammogram examinations in women over the age of 40. Lastly, advances in reconstructive surgery have helped women to feel more comfortable with their body image as well as restore confidence in their sexuality.
Despite these advances, every 69 seconds someone’s mother, sister, daughter or friend loses their life to breast cancer somewhere in the world. While major advances in breast cancer detection and treatment have reduced the mortality rate from the disease, we still have a long way to go.
As Breast Cancer Awareness month comes to a close, we should take a moment to honor and remember those that have battled the disease by reminding ourselves and encouraging our loved ones to perform monthly self-checks and to obtain a yearly mammogram.
Breast cancer is not a one month a year disease. We need to encourage all women to fight breast cancer twelve months a year.