BREAST cancer is the second most common cancer among American women and is far deadlier than skin cancer, which holds the top spot.
One in eight women can expect to develop breast cancer at some time, making it clear why cancer survivors, medical providers and the American Cancer Society organize Breast Cancer Awareness Month each October.
Lives depend on awareness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 252,000 women and 2,740 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. More than 41,000 women will die from the disease.
The importance of awareness and testing were recurring themes in news stories from a special section on breast cancer that was published last weekend by The Herald-Whig.
Sheena Chaplin, 42, of Hannibal, Mo., is grateful that she ran into a friend at Hannibal Regional Hospital early this year when she was ready to skip a breast cancer screening because of time constraints. Her mammogram showed suspicious spots that were later diagnosed as stage 1 breast cancer.
Now cancer free, Chaplin calls the mammogram a life-saving procedure.
"I'm stubborn. Had I not stayed there, I would have put off getting a mammogram for another year" or more, Chaplin said.
Jessica Rankin, a nurse from Basco, was 27 when she noticed a lump in her left breast late last year. She had stage 3 cancer and underwent surgery in August.
"If you have a gut feeling it's not right, then definitely get it checked out," Rankin told The Herald-Whig.
Success stories have become more numerous as new cancer treatments are developed and more patients survive. The Susan G. Komen organization notes that there was a 38 percent decrease in breast cancer mortality from 1989-2014.
The CDC reports that nine out of 10 women with breast cancer will live more than five years after their initial diagnosis, and 81 percent will live 15 years or more.
Health care officials say even with better treatments and outcomes, the most important factor in survival is awareness.
"Women need to have an idea of what they should be looking for, and, if there is a change they need to contact their (doctor or specialist)," said Sheila Hermesmeyer, a nurse who teaches self-exam classes at Blessing Breast Center.
Many women discover signs of breast cancer through self-testing. Self-exams are a critical tool in the fight against breast cancer, which becomes more likely with age. Early prevention can help minimize the chance of the cancer spreading, making it easier to treat and cure.
Pink ribbons and pink emblems that are seen during Breast Cancer Awareness Month are appropriate reminders of the need for vigilance. They're also life-affirming symbols of hope.