Breast cancer awareness in the pink

U. OREGON (US) — Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October has little effect on the number of diagnoses of breast cancer in November—but that is viewed as a good thing.

A new study finds that in the mid-1990s, when the awareness movement was expanding and was first recognized by the federal government as an official event, the pink campaign increased diagnoses—that has not been the case in recent years.

“In addition to showing a diminishing effect from NBCAM, the data indicate that the distribution of diagnoses over the calendar has become more uniform,” says Grant Jacobsen, professor of planning, public policy, and management at the University of Oregon.

“Both of these findings suggest that women are now getting diagnosed as a result of routine screenings, as opposed to event-driven screenings. This is a good thing, since routine screening is likely to lead to earlier diagnoses.”

The study is published in the Journal of Health Economics.

Researchers studied data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Registries database from five states and four metropolitan areas, the most complete record of diagnoses available, and found that before NBCAM was well established in the early 1990s, there were large fluctuations in the diagnosis of breast cancer, most notably.

Most notable to the researchers were significant spikes in 1974 and 1987 coinciding with announcements by first ladies Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan when each disclosed a breast cancer diagnosis.

“Our findings indicate that during the period before NBCAM, when breast cancer was rarely talked about, celebrity diagnoses reminded women of the risk of breast cancer and led some to seek out screening, and consequently resulted in increases in diagnoses,” says co-author Kathryn Jacobsen, associate professor of epidemiology at George Mason University.

Breast cancer awareness is a rich subject for the study, the authors say, because it is one of the oldest and most well-established awareness campaigns in the U.S.

“So much has changed from 1987 when only 30 percent of women reported having a mammogram in the previous two years,” Kathryn Jacobsen says. “Communities came together—women and men—to talk about breast cancer, and screenings among the target group increased to 70 percent by 1999.”

“Our study is actually good news for breast cancer advocacy. It suggests that breast cancer advocacy efforts have increased awareness of the need for regular screening among American women,” says Grant Jacobsen.

“There are other associated benefits beyond initial screenings that should perhaps be expanded now that the awareness campaign is mature.”

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