Autumn turns the surrounding hills bright shades of yellow and orange, but some Summit County and Colorado organizations are trying to turn October as pink as possible.
Oct. 1 marked the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a collaboration of national public service organizations, professional medical associations and government agencies working together to promote breast cancer awareness, share information on the disease and provide greater access to services.
Breast cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in Colorado, killing more than 500 women annually. According to the health department’s Central Cancer Registry, 75 percent of the 3,700 breast cancer cases diagnosed every year in Colorado are detected early, with lower early detection rates for Latino, black and uninsured women.
At St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, pink reminder bracelets will be given out in the mammography department during this month while supplies last. The hospital offers patients the latest advancements in technology for breast imaging, diagnostics and treatment, said spokesperson Erin McGinnis. St. Anthony recently hired a genetic counselor to evaluate personal and family history to determine if an individual is at increased risk for cancer, and a nurse navigator to guide individuals through the breast cancer treatment process.
“When you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, having a nurse specialist to help you navigate your care and concerns can make all the difference,” McGinnis said.
Lindsey Warner, communications manager for Shaw Cancer Center in Edwards, said October is an important month to raise awareness.
“The bottom line is if women get their mammograms they will catch breast cancer early, and when it is caught early there is a 98 percent survival rate,” she said. “But that goes down to just 27 percent if caught late, so education on getting their mammos is the best thing we can do to prevent unnecessary deaths.”
The Women’s Wellness Connection helps fund providers throughout the state, including in Summit County, to provide free breast screenings for low-income women.
In a prepared statement, Emily Kinsella, manager of the Women’s Wellness Connection, said one in four low-income, uninsured Colorado women have been screened for breast and cervical cancer through the program.
“We urge every Coloradan to take time during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October to reflect on the consequences of breast cancer in their lives, get involved in local breast cancer awareness events and talk to the women they love about getting a mammogram,” she said.
2009 marked the 25th anniversary of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The third Friday in October is National Mammography Day, which began in 1993. Next to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women.
Planned Parenthood is another resource for women looking for breast cancer screenings. Planned Parenthood health centers perform nearly 750,000 breast cancer screenings every year.
The Glenwood Springs health center has access to a grant from the Susan G. Komen foundation to provide breast health services to low-income women who qualify, said Rebecca Sunshine, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
The national Planned Parenthood organization also just launched a new campaign called the Breast Contest Ever encouraging woman to take control of their breast health with an opportunity to win a trip for two to Las Vegas and $1,000 donation to an eligible community partner organization.
Kathy Rhodes, community coordinator of the Women’s Wellness Connection, said reminding people about breast cancer screenings during this month is necessary.
“If we didn’t do it, people would probably forget,” Rhodes said. “It’s worth the effort, to remind women of the importance of it.”
Rhodes said the program screened 17,000 women last year. Early detection saves lives, she said, and screening can offer peace of mind.
“If a woman has no insurance and she is diagnosed with cancer by one of our state-contracted providers, she is given a special exception into Medicaid for treatment,” Rhodes said.
Shaw Cancer Center in Edwards is another recourse for Summit County women. Warner said they have teamed up with 20 local businesses to host events and mini-fundraisers throughout the month with their “Pretty in Pink” program.
“Pretty in Pink has two main goals,” she said. “The first is educating women that they should begin annual mammograms at age 40, and two, to activate local businesses to help in that education effort and have them do grass-roots fundraisers to support women with costs not covered by insurance.”
People now have access to the 3D mammography at the Shaw Center as well, Hogan said. It’s the first FDA-approved Breast Tomosynthesis machine. The 3D mammogram builds detailed, comprehensive pictures by taking multiple images slices and can locate hard-to-find cancers much easier, she said.
The Shaw Center also provides chemotherapy to patients of Summit at their clinic in Frisco.
“We are so committed to Summit County we just signed a lease [on Main Street] and will be remodeling it into a full breast center in early 2014 so patients won’t even need to drive to Eagle County,” Hogan said.
Dave Brendsel, communications specialist for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an important campaign for the health of Coloradans.
“For prevention’s sake, which is the focus now in health care, it’s absolutely critical we get as many woman as possible ages 40 to 64 to get screened for breast cancer,” he said.
Centura Health is offering three free breast seminars this month at the St. Anthony hospital in Lakewood: “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Dense Breasts” at 6 p.m. on Oct. 1, “The Tomo Tour” at 5 p.m. on Oct. 9 and “Are You At High Risk for Breast Cancer” at 6 p.m. on Oct. 16. These breast health sessions will cover risk factors and prevention with noted speakers.