Overall Breast Cancer Mortality by Year - USA*
|Year||Source||No. of Deaths|
|2001||Wiley Online Library||40,600|
|1999||Cancer Journal for Clinicians||43,700|
|1998||Cancer Journal for Clinicians||43,500|
|1994||Wiley Online Library||46,000|
|1988||New York Times Article
(indicates that the average in the mid-80s was 40,000)
|1970||Wiley Online Library||30,100|
What is this chart, you ask?
For years, patients, advocates and activists in the metastatic breast cancer community have shared this fact: 40,000 women per year die of breast cancer, a number which hasn't changed much over the years. Each one of those 40,000 represents a beautiful life, somebody loved, and we all feel sadness that number is static.
We all say it, but is it true? I decided to find proof. Like with the 30% of early stage progress to mets number I recently questioned, I got curious.
I was surprised to find there was nothing in existence that outlined this, so I dug around and created a chart myself.
Apparently, these raw death numbers don't mean much to epidemiologists, who are mostly trying to tease out underserved populations. Like the other number I questioned, it just doesn't seem to be important to anybody but those of us living with the disease. We will likely never know the number who relapse after an early-stage diagnosis.
It's always been my feeling that as laymen we shouldn't rely on statistics and numbers too heavily. The old phrase "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics" is true. They rarely mean what we think they do (as in the famous 1-8 statistic). The same numbers can be used to "prove" different things, and are probably best left to mathematicians. However, in this case, I know something else - that too many women are still dying of breast cancer. These 40,000 are people, and I have known a few of them.
As for the chart - it's hard to go further back than I have, and sources get pretty shaky beyond 2003. The US does not have a national cancer registry.
What's the point of knowing this? Elementary school kids wear breast cancer bracelets, and college girls do manual breast exams, women get their mammograms. If a lump shows up, their first thought is breast cancer - in fact, in the course of keeping this blog I've been contacted by numerous 13 year old girls terrified they had cancer. Awareness, I contend, has been achieved. It was once an important concept, back when breasts were hidden and disease was shameful, but times have changed. The intense focus on "awareness" has not. It's like the temperance movement, an anachronistic idea in today's times.
I'm not saying one should not be screened. Of course finding breast cancer early may give you a better shot at survival - but it also may not save you. Studies are showing that the idea of early detection leading to a cure is not as hopeful as once believed. A scalpel to cancer at the perfect moment should stop it in its tracks, but we've learned the biology is too complicated. Like we once believed you had to remove the breast, the pectoral muscles and all the lymph nodes in a disfiguring surgery called a Halsted mastectomy, we now know that removing only the cancerous lump may be enough. Halsted mastectomies are not done anymore, and we know that even a small cancer can metastasize, sometimes years after original diagnosis and treatment.
But one thing hasn't changed. 40,000 wives, mothers, sisters, loved ones and friends die of breast cancer - each and every year. Far too many.
I wondered how to deal with Pink October this year. Years past, I highlighted the insensitive advertising, boob focus, and misleading marketing, giving many what they wanted - attention. I was sarcastic and angry - I fired off too many angry emails that effected nothing. This year, I am going to be positive. I'll be giving people my truth, things to think about, and ways to effectively approach this month. I'm changing my focus too - anger is useless. The likelihood is in our lifetime Pinktober won't stopped. Rather than fight each company who wants to capitalize on our disease, we must instead try to get them to give where it is needed, and have our friends and neighbors understand a different point of view and what is needed to solve the problem of breast cancer. And, we need ammunition, although perhaps not pink bullets. Wouldn't it be amazing if people realized awareness has been achieved, and it's time to move to Phase 2 - a cure? What if Komen decided to give their multi-millions to research instead of creating more awareness pamphlets? Truth is, they aren't going anywhere, but maybe we can convince them to spend their money in a wiser way.
*My disclaimer is that I am a writer and a creative type. Numbers, as Barbie says, are hard. My son, who is majoring in math at Caltech, might disagree with that, but he is not here to proofread this for me.. If you see that I've transposed something, let me know. But for those of you who like to to use that 40,000 number (and I know who you are!) here is something link to. Please use it responsibly and remember to keep it in perspective and understand it is not a definitive answer of anything - other than we are still dying.