Posts tagged with 'ovarian cancer'

Are We Overdoing Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

  • Posted on October 10, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Greetings in October!

As we are all reminded in the stores this month, it’s breast-cancer-awareness time. Shelves are brimming with merchandise clad in pink or marked with pink ribbons to highlight the importance of stamping out breast cancer.  Every year pink makes a bigger splash in our shopping experience, just as Halloween decorations did in years past.

A bit of history: Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities every October to increase awareness of the disease and raise funds for research into its cause, prevention and cure.  AstraZeneca, which manufactures breast cancer drugs Arimidex and tamoxifen, founded Breast Cancer Awareness Month in 1985. From the beginning the major focus is to promote mammography as the most effective weapon in the fight against breast cancer. In 1993 Evelyn Lauder, of the Estee Lauder Companies, founded The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and adopted the pink ribbon as its symbol.

When I first was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 I didn’t hear any complaints about the “pink” month.  In a win-win situation customers could buy their usual products while supporting breast cancer research. But in 2002 the Breast Cancer Action advocacy group launched the “Think Before You Pink” campaign warning shoppers to ask store managers what their money is actually funding. And some patients feel pink ribbons reduce their illness into a marketing ploy. I’m not sure if companies are making a profit from all the pink-themed merchandise or if all the extra money is indeed going to worthy breast cancer organizations. We do need to be wary consumers.

I’ve also heard more complaints these days from people who wonder why breast cancer garners so much attention, to the exclusion of all other diseases:

“I’m sick of all this pink stuff. Lung cancer causes more deaths than breast cancer but doesn’t get half the attention.”

“What about prostate cancer?”

“I don’t even like the color pink. Why would I buy anything like that to support something that doesn’t affect me?”

“I’ve got primary lymphedema, but the only lymphedema research that gets funded is that caused by breast cancer treatment.”

And on it goes. I’m sympathetic because I’m aware that our bodies can suffer from many different diseases the cures for which are equally important.  I suffer from other conditions like lymphedema and Renaud’s syndrome, and have been treated for precancerous skin lesions. The only reasons I can muster for this extra attention are that U.S. women get breast cancer more than any other type of cancer except skin cancer, breast cancer is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death in women in the U.S., and feminists (and perhaps cosmetics manufacturers) have promoted this cause to the hilt.

Maybe I’m not seeing red like others around me because I have benefited from advances in breast-cancer treatment, I’m not a cynic by nature, and I like the pink products (although I’d rather they be lavender).  More importantly I would like to see breast cancer eradicated so I will never meet another person who says, “I have breast cancer.” If it leads at least one woman to get a mammogram, it might well be worth it.

In the meantime, I will wear my pink outfits and ribbons for this month and let the chips (and humbug stares) fall where they may. I also am wearing a turquoise rubber bracelet to raise lymphedema awareness. And then there’s the pearl ribbon for lung cancer awareness month in November and the teal ribbon for ovarian cancer awareness month in September. And yesterday I saw a purple rubber armband symbolizing awareness of all kinds of cancer. You get the idea. Now it’s time for you to get with the program that you support. Be creative in how to promote and highlight your cause so that it can be brought to the public’s attention as successfully as breast cancer awareness.

In the meantime, I wish you blessings in October, which is also Pastor Appreciation Month.

Cheerily,

Jan

BRCA Genes and Cancer

  • Posted on September 1, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene predispose people to breast cancer and ovarian cancer as well as prostate cancer (BRCA1) and other cancers (BRCA2).  In families passing down an inherited genetic mutation, multiple family members get the same type of cancer.  About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are hereditary.

At my last checkup in May 2010 my new oncologist suggested I be tested for genetic variations in BRCA-1 and BRCA-2. Even though I have no family history of breast cancer, his recommendations were based on my diagnosis at the relatively young age of 43 and my recurrence at age 52. The test results would gift my sons with knowing of any inherited increased risk of contracting cancer. In addition, I would discover if my risk for ovarian cancer was higher than it otherwise would be.

This test is neither cheap nor without controversy.  Even with insurance kicking in, I paid $375 out of my own pocket to obtain the results. And having worked as a patent attorney for over 32 years, I know that the cost heavily correlates with the BRCA-1/-2 patents held by Myriad Genetics, which conducts the tests. In late March of this year, a federal judge invalidated Myriad’s seven patents on these two genes. The decision, if upheld, could throw into doubt patents covering thousands of human genes and reshape the law of intellectual property. I realize the cost of the test is high, but also understand that patents are a limited monopoly granted by the U.S. Constitution and thus to be taken seriously. In the medical field where expense-shaving is lauded, patents often conflict with cost-cutting measures for prescription drugs and medical tests.  I’ll leave this debate to the intellectual property gurus for now.

Rising above the politics and blessed to be able to afford it, I opted for the test. Just yesterday I discovered I don’t have mutations in these two genes.  Joy fills my heart at this news. Not least because I don’t have to be screened so carefully for ovarian cancer. The biggest reward, though, is that my sons don’t have this added burden of genetics to ponder as they age. Life is hard enough without being concerned that a cancer gene or two might raise its ugly head when least expected.

Undergoing this test, however, has increased my compassion for those people found to have BRCA mutations.  Many support groups are tailored to this patient population. Most organizations such as FORCE and BrightPink are national with affiliate branches all over the U.S.  Patients or family members may want to start a branch in their own community. They can ask genetic counselors for specific support groups in their area. Their local hospital, Breast/Ovarian Cancer center, or doctor’s office may have information on local support groups. In addition, online support groups exist. Check out, for example, http://www.inspire.com/groups/advanced-breast-cancer/discussion/brca1-and-or-triple-negative, http://inthefamily.kartemquin.com/content/i-have-brca-mutation#support, and http://www.experienceproject.com/groups/Am-Brca1-Positive/184620.  My prayers go out to these precious folks – and may they never lose hope or the comfort that God can bring.

For more information on BRCA-1 and -2 testing, I recommend the following respected links: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/BRCA and http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/8623.cfm.

Colorful and snappy September days to you.

Blessings,

Jan

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