Much progress has been made in the 16 years since October was first designated National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, primarily through increased awareness of the importance of early detection.
However, the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Board of Sponsors reports some alarming facts about Alaska. Although mammography use increased between 1989 and 1997 for all sociodemographic groups nationwide, there was no increase among American Indians or Alaska Natives. Even more disturbing, women in those two groups experienced a 4 percent annual increase in breast cancer deaths -- even though the rate has been in decline elsewhere.
It is estimated that Alaska will see about 200 new cases of breast cancer by the end of the year and that about 100 people will die of breast cancer this year.
However, the Board of Sponsors also reports some positive news:
Since Congress first approved a national program of screening for breast and cervical cancers, more than 1.4 million mammograms have been provided and almost 10,000 breast cancer cases were detected. Programs exist in all 50 states as well as through 12 American Indian/Alaska Native organizations.
Nationwide death rates from breast cancer showed their first significant decline between 1992 and 1996, dropping almost 2 percent each year.
In 1987, an estimated 25 percent of women age 50 and older reported having a mammogram within the preceding two years. That increased to 69 percent in 1999.
Federal funding for breast cancer research has grown 600 percent, from $92.7 million in 1991 to $660 million in 1999.
Mammography rates have increased and programs are in place at the national, state and local levels to broaden information about breast cancer and the need for early detection. However, too many women still do not include early breast cancer detection measures as part of their health care routine.
In correlation with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the third Friday of October is National Mammography Day.
Take the time to find out more about breast cancer, early detection and the services available in our community, either for yourself or someone you love. The best defense is early detection -- and information.
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