It’s breast cancer awareness month, and from its history, societal implications and its eye-opening statistics, there is a whole lot to acknowledge and educate ourselves on. To start off with some history, celebrating breast cancer awareness actually began in 1985, when the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of Imperial Chemical Industries came together to create a week-long event. This was further promoted by Betty Ford, a survivor of breast cancer, and being the wife of the president of the United states at the time, Gerald Ford, helped influence and spread awareness to the masses.
So, what is breast cancer? Simply put, it occurs when cells of the breast abnormally and uncontrollably multiply and form a tumor that can grow into and destroy nearby tissue. Sometimes these growths become benign like cysts or non-cancerous tissues, but in other cases they can be harmful and affect the ducts, the glands, or the lobules. For this reason, no case of breast cancer is exactly the same as the next, and there are several types from inflammatory breast cancer (less common) to invasive ductal carcinoma (most common).
The World Health Organization reported
total breast cancer cases in 2018
and it is predicted to raise to
breast cancer cases by 2040
But what is breast cancer like today? Well, in 2018 the total cases of breast cancer were 2,069,792, which is predicted to increase to 2,778,850 in 2040. In Canada, by the end of this year, it is estimated that 27,400 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. In other words, 75 Canadian women are being diagnosed daily and 14 Canadian women will die from the disease every day.
And though cases of breast cancer have been rising and are predicted to increase, the chances of mortality have drastically decreased. For example, breast cancer has the highest rate of incidence of 11.6% (2018), among cancer types. However, its mortality rate was 6.6%, a rate that has been decreasing since 1986 and is highly attributable to the impact of improvements in treatments as well as increased screening. Indeed, regular screening can lower the risk of death by 47% as opposed to those who don’t screen.
But breast cancer goes beyond the science and the numbers. Since 99% of breast cancer patients are women, from a societal standpoint, it can be closely linked to feminism and the importance of female empowerment. Breast cancer can make a woman feel that their female identity and self worth is compromised and that they feel the pressure of keeping their experience hushed up. But nothing could be more harmful to these women and their health, both physically and mentally. The change of breasts and the loss of hair does not define one’s femininity. It is the person in themselves to define that. They were a woman before removing their breasts, and a woman after. This is undebatable.
Additionally, researchers even find that empowering breast cancer patients and survivors is a key part to their healing, both within society and the hospital. This includes the incorporation of volunteer work to redefine conceptions of breast cancer as well as open up people’s eyes to the reality of the disease and falsify its social constructs. Other aspects are spiritual workshops and family involvement in every step of the way. In other words, excluding these women from society and the exclusion of themselves from their own bodies will only obstruct the healing process, and make the pain and the emotions harder to deal with. Instead getting involved and changing our views on femininity are important for the acceptance and rehabilitation of all these women.
Something that also may come as a shock to some is that breast cancer occurs in males too. Yes you heard right. It is often associated as a woman’s disease, and though less than 1% of breast cancer patients are male, that means, in Canada, 240 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 55 will die from it. Interestingly enough, even men themselves aren’t very aware of breast cancer incidence in males.
In fact, a study showed that when asked about the occurrence of breast cancer in males, 80% of these men weren’t aware of this possibility, though they were also shown to be at a higher risk due to their family history. And because of how rare it is in men and gender constructs, many of its male patients and survivors are embarrassed by it, especially if physical changes were made to their breast. It is taken to be emasculating, BUT just as it shouldn’t and does not define a woman’s femininity, it shouldn’t represent a man’s masculinity.
For these reasons altogether it is important not only to know about all the aspects of breast cancer, but to talk about it, to break those stigmas and make a meaningful conversation so that breast cancer can be addressed properly. So with this in mind, we encourage you to spread the facts, educate and bring awareness to those around you and make for an empowered Breast Cancer Awareness Month this year.
1. Canadian Cancer Society (1) (2)
2. World Health Organization (1)
3. Do Something Organization (1)
4. Women’s Experiences of Breast Cancer (1)
5. Get Healthy Stay Healthy: Breast Cancer in Men (1)
6. National Breast Cancer Foundation: Men (1)
7. ABC Globalalliance: Breast Cancer Worldwide (1)
8. Beyond Science: How to Empower Women with Breast Cancer (1)
9. American Cancer Society: Types of Breast Cancer (1)