October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The annual international health campaign is organized by major breast cancer charities to increase awareness of the disease’s impact and raise funds for research into causes and cures.
There is a new diagnosis of breast cancer made every 2 minutes in the U.S. It is the most common cancer afflicting women worldwide. While breast cancer is rare in men—the risk is only 1 in 1,000—we can expect to lose 44,000+ people to this disease in the U.S. in the coming year.1
The mortality rate from breast cancer, which is actually an umbrella term encompassing a range of diseases, has fallen 35% since 1990. Campaigns like Breast Cancer Awareness Month undoubtedly contribute to the visibility and urgency that drives the research that is continually lowering that percentage. But the numbers are still too high. As Forbes points out, “Business leaders have a responsibility to harness the power of the workplace to raise funds and awareness in this critical fight.”2
Things to know about breast cancer
These U.S. breast cancer statistics are from BreastCancer.org: 3
- In women under 45, breast cancer is more common in African-American women than Caucasian women. Overall, African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer. For Asian, Hispanic and Native American women, the risk of developing and dying from breast cancer is lower. Ashkenazi Jewish women have a higher risk of breast cancer than other women because of a higher rate of the breast cancer gene (BRCA) mutations. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the genes that have been found to impact a person’s chances of developing breast cancer.
- While a woman’s risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who was diagnosed with breast cancer, about 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of the disease.
- The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are gender (being a woman) and age (growing older).
- Death rates have been steady for women under 50 since 2007 but have continued to drop for women over 50. The overall death rate from breast cancer decreased by 1% per year from 2013 to 2018. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances and earlier detection through screening.
How to support breast cancer awareness month in the workplace
How can you support this campaign and your employees who are vulnerable to breast cancer? Forbes invites employers to go beyond nationally organized fundraising drives and host their own. Consider offering a 50/50 match for funds raised through walks, raffles or sporting events to encourage employee collaboration and involvement.4
However, raising awareness is as important as raising money. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) suggests sharing breast cancer statistics and encouraging employees to wear pink in the office or virtual meetings.5 Consider creating a breast cancer awareness bulletin board in a break room or visible location.
Sharing stories is another way to raise visibility and reduce the sense of isolation often felt by those who have been touched by this disease. For example, feature the stories of well-known breast cancer survivors in your employee newsletter.
Remind employees that a donation of any size makes an impact. A donation of just $25 will fund a half hour of research at any of the labs that the BCRF supports.6 Consider initiating a drive to collect warm hats and scarves for donation to a local chemotherapy clinic. Some employees might even cut their hair and donate it to an organization that makes wigs for chemo patients. Your company might be able to facilitate those kinds of collections, as well.
How to support breast cancer awareness all year long
Evaluate how your organization can support employees in accessing detection and treatment of breast cancer all year long.
Forbes suggests, “Employers can use the platform of the workplace to proactively give women the information they need to take charge of their health.”7 Remind Go365® members they can earn Points for mammograms and other health screenings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a number of programs to support breast cancer intervention in the workplace, including education campaigns, which have been shown to increase the use of screening services.8 Consider making flyers or brochures available about screenings and screening-related benefits in employee break rooms and on bulletin boards. Also, consider bringing a mobile mammography van to the worksite or to a nearby location to provide on-the-spot screening. These vans, often available from hospitals and other clinical centers, reduce time away from work and the out-of-pocket expense to employees.
October is also a good time to evaluate the accommodations your workplace offers to make the challenge of cancer treatment more manageable. Can employees access modified or reduced work schedules to accommodate treatments and related medical appointments? Does your company have the ability and wiliness to adjust workplace temperature, alter the work routine or provide ergonomic equipment to improve treatment-induced discomfort?
“While white women can retain their jobs post-treatment at a high rate of 98 percent, job retention is significantly lower for minorities and low-income women.”9 However, Forbes reminds us that there is evidence that breast cancer survivors with accommodating employers are twice as likely to hold onto their jobs.
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1Naz Besheshti, “5 Ways To Promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month In The Workplace,” Forbes, last accessed September 27, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/nazbeheshti/2019/10/10/5-ways-to-promote-breast-cancer-awareness-month-in-the-workplace/?sh=d5cccdc6d6c1Opens in new window.
2“5 Ways To Promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month In The Workplace.”
3“U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics,” BreastCancer.org, last accessed September 27, 2021, https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statisticsOpens in new window.
4“5 Ways To Promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month In The Workplace.”
5“7 Breast Cancer Awareness Month Ideas to Help Fundraisers Make an Impact,” Breast Cancer Research Foundation, last accessed September 27, 2021, https://www.bcrf.org/breast-cancer-awareness-month-ideas-fundraisingOpens in new window.
6“7 Breast Cancer Awareness Month Ideas to Help Fundraisers Make an Impact.”
7“5 Ways To Promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month In The Workplace.”
8“Programs | Breast Cancer Interventions,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed September 27, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/health-strategies/breast-cancer/interventions/programs.htmlOpens in new window.
9“5 Ways To Promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month In The Workplace.”