Are You Aware?

Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN

I think everyone is aware that October is breast cancer awareness month – how could you miss the neon pink gloves on your favorite NFL receiver’s hands? I guess all that pink has scared the other advocacy groups into other months. Take November for instance, it is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month, Stomach Cancer Awareness Month, National Family Caregiver Month and the Great American Smokeout. Don’t even ask about September, which is the awareness month for 6 cancers (prostate, childhood cancers, ovarian, gynecological, thyroid cancers and leukemia & lymphoma). Why doesn’t anyone want February, August or December?

What do we get for all this “awareness” besides pink ribbons on our loaves of bread? Turns out, probably not much. In fact, some studies have found that too much is not a good thing. In the case of breast cancer awareness, surveys have shown that women tend to fear breast cancer, overestimate their risk of developing it, and have less concern about developing heart disease (which they are more likely to become ill or die from). In addition, they are not aware that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for women – not breast cancer. And they are probably not aware that it is lung cancer awareness month either.

One group looked at Google searches in the month of October and it turns out all this pinkness does lead to spikes in searches for breast cancer information. Despite this, another group examined 30 years of cancer registry data to see if the October onslaught led to more breast cancers detected in November – it did not. So, people read about it online, but didn’t schedule that mammogram anyway.

If you’re wondering what my solution is, I don’t have one. It seems there needs to be a balance between awareness and good, factual information. We need some balance in the “limelight” for cancer awareness. Why don’t we see any NFL receivers wearing purple gloves for pancreatic cancer or clear gloves for lung cancer?

We also need there to be a balance in the funding of research – breast cancer research funding doubles that of prostate cancer research funding – though the diseases are equally common. Lung cancer kills more people than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined, but lung cancer research receives far less funding.

Maybe we can all help raise awareness of the cancers that don’t get the attention they work so hard for during their awareness months. I think I’ll wear purple tomorrow in honor of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and tell folks the real facts about pancreatic cancer.

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