Seventy-six. Seventy-six mothers, daughters, wives, best friends, sisters, aunts, girlfriends.
That’s how many women lost their lives to breast cancer in the four-county area between 2007 and 2009 (the last years for which statistics are available).
It might not sound like a lot. On average across the four counties, breast cancer makes up between 10 and 15 percent of the new cancer cases reported each year. And deaths from breast cancer account for less than 10 percent of cancer deaths.
But for the loved ones of those 76 women, it might seem like everything. And during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we remember these women, and the thousands more like them, whose battle against cancer was lost.
The watchword (or, in this case, words) for breast cancer is still “early detection,” a concept that health care providers have been pushing for years.
There has been some recent disagreement over who should get regular mammograms, and how frequently. Today, the National Cancer Institute of the U.S. Department of Health recommends women between the ages of 40 and 70 have mammograms every one or two years. Women at higher than average risk — for example, those with a family history of the disease — are advised to talk to a doctor about whether to begin screening earlier. And breast self-exams are still a valuable “front-line” tool for early detection about which there is little disagreement.
We are extremely fortunate to have numerous, valuable resources available locally in the fight against breast cancer.
The Bassett Cancer Institute’s mobile screening coach travels throughout the area, offering a variety of medical tests, including mammograms, at no charge to qualified people. The program is presented through the Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie Counties’ Cancer Services Program.
And a fundraising campaign is underway now to install a state-of-the-art Women’s Imaging Center at Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown.
“We know early detection is critical to giving women the best opportunity for beating many forms of cancer,” Reneé Scialdo Shevat of the Friends of Bassett said recently. “The fundraising campaign ... will allow Bassett to bring in the latest technology and redesign the space to provide an overall better patient experience.”
Another local health care provider has developed an innovative way to encourage area women to get screened for breast cancer.
United Health Services’ Delaware Valley Hospital in Walton participates in the “Pearls of Wisdom” program, which rewards women who come in for mammograms with a gift certificate for a necklace with a single pearl. Women who return for annual screenings will receive additional pearls to add to the necklace.
We encourage all women to take care of themselves with regular self-exams, and, for those who need them, mammograms. We can’t stop cancer, but we can sure fight it with all we’ve got.