USC

Breast Cancer Awareness Month drives home importance of preventative screening

Advocates hope to increase screening after a decline induced by the pandemic which largely impacted women of color

Since the pandemic, breast cancer screening rates have significantly declined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For April 2020, screenings declined by 87% when compared with the previous five-year averages for that month. In the midst of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, some survivors advocate for screenings.

“We need to remember that all of these other things haven’t stopped lung cancer, breast cancer, heart attack, heart disease,” journalism professor and breast cancer survivor Lisa Pecot-Hébert said. “We need to be diligent about preventative health in addition to all of the other things that our lives have been inundated with in the last two years.”

The American Cancer Society estimates that about one in eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer during their lifetime.

Pecot-Hébert and clinical communication professor Alison Trope have both survived breast cancer and advocate for screenings through mammograms. With a survival rate for stage 0 to 1 being 99%, breast cancer is one of the most treatable cancers when caught early.

“If I hadn’t gotten that screening because of the kind of aggressive cancer I happen to have, who knows how much further the cancer could have traveled in my body,” Trope said.

The decline in screenings has unevenly affected women of color, with 84% less screenings among Hispanic women and 98% less screenings among Native American women from January to June 2020, according to the CDC.

“In communities of color where they may or may not have access to health care in the way that you know, other populations do, we need to really, really let them know the seriousness of breast cancer,” Pecot-Hèbert said.

Yusra Farzan, a master’s student in specialized journalism, lost her mother to breast cancer in 2019. Her aunt was also diagnosed with breast cancer that same year. She highlighted the way different cultures see the necessity of preventative care, like breast exams.

“We’re originally Sri Lankan and so she [Farzan’s mother] didn’t really like the whole concept of doing regular breast exams or regular mammograms and things like that,” Farzan said. “That wasn’t a thing for her.”

Farzan thinks there needs to be a stronger focus on normalizing preventative care across cultures.

“I don’t think [breast cancer awareness] should be limited to one month. I think it should be this wider conversation,” Farzan said.

In addition to cultures having different approaches to their health, Farzan believes that many health care professionals in the United States can sometimes be ignorant of cultural lifestyle differences.

“I feel like especially when you’re a person of color and you come from a culture that’s very different from white culture, [the doctors] need to just learn more about different cultures and stuff like that,” Farzan said. “That way you can feel like when you go to a doctor’s office that they are advocating for you.”

Although breast cancer is more associated with women, about one in 833 men in the U.S. will also develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

“Men can get breast cancer. It’s rare,” said Pecot-Hèbert, “If you have breast tissue, which we all do, it just doesn’t grow and manifest itself the same way.”

USC is highlighting the significance of the month by selling Breast Cancer Awareness merchandise and having DPS don pink patches on their uniforms.

“Each year Chief John Thomas approves officers wearing special uniforms with pink patches during the month of October as a symbol of our support,” said Assistant Chief David Carlisle. “DPS lost an employee to breast cancer a few years ago and employs others who have survived the disease so this is an important program for DPS.”