Now that the breast cancer awareness month October has passed, let’s not forget that the fatal disease is still a threat to women all over the world. Our region of the world reports the highest incidence of breast cancer each year. Despite the struggle of creating awareness among masses, a huge population is still unaware of the solemnity of the matter. Shedload of women and men are diagnosed with breast cancer, that too at late stages where the chances of treatment and cure are significantly low.
Various organizations are running all over the world whose sole focus is the prevention and detection of the fatal cancer. These organizations are endeavoring to educate the public regarding the issue and how they can save themselves by catching the disease at an early stage. A bunch of promotional campaigns is run all over the world for this cause. The most prominent using the breast cancer awareness ribbon also known as the pink ribbon.
What is Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is one of the most frequently reported cancers in Pakistan in both men and women. The highest cancer death rates are also associated with it . About 1 in every 8 women is diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.
It is a condition associated with uncontrolled division of the breast cells. Irregular and uncontrolled cell division leads to formation of tumor in different regions of the breasts. The most common types of breast cancer include the invasive ductal carcinoma (cancer of the ducts) and the invasive lobular carcinoma (cancer of the lobules), both of which are invasive and are capable of metastasizing (spreading to other parts of the body).
The signs of breast cancer include lumps in the breasts, swelling, irritation, rashes, redness or flaking of the skin, change in shape or size etc.
The exact cause of the cancer is not fully understood, however, various factors have been identified that possess some degree of association with it. These include age, genetics, family history, obesity, alcohol consumption, radiation exposure, cancer of some other organ etc. One or more of these factors could be the reason for the cancer formation.
Breast cancer is a curable disease, if diagnosed at an early stage. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are used to treat the tumor, depending on the severity and type of the cancer.
While the lethality of the cancer depends on the stage in which it is diagnosed, certain measures can be taken to protect ourselves from acquiring it. Maintain a healthy and active lifestyle along with the intake of healthy diet is the most important step. Forswearing or reducing alcohol consumption also proves beneficial in this regard. For lactating mothers, breastfeeding itself acts as a barrier in development of cancerous cells and tumors, hence the mothers are encouraged to nurse their babies for at least 2 years.
Breast Cancer in Pakistan
Breast cancer is a leading cancer in Pakistan which is prevalent in women from 15 to 39 years of age  In fact, Pakistan is the highest reporter of breast cancer cases all over Asian region. Studies show that approximately 3,20,000 new cancer cases are reported each year in Pakistan  Each year approximately 90,000 women are affected with breast cancers, resulting in about 40,000 annual deaths.
Pink Ribbon Campaign
Pink Ribbon is an international symbol used by the organizations who work for breast cancer awareness all over the world. Pink ribbon campaigns express support and encouragement towards the of breast cancer awareness. Due to the increasing numbers of breast cancer cases, this campaign provides not only moral but also financial sustenance to the victims.
History of the Pink Ribbon
A breast cancer survivor Charlotte Haley, then 68- years old, was the first lady who started handing out peach ribbons among the people to along with the post card stating that, “The National Cancer Institute’s annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.”
She wrote letters to prominent women of the country and continued to handout the cards at the local supermarkets in order to spread awareness for breast cancer prevention.
Her initiative was appreciated by the marketing executive of a well-known magazine ‘Self’ as well as the senior management of the beauty brand named ‘Estee Lauder’, who by the way, herself was a breast cancer survivor. Haley refused to work commercially with any of them, upon which, the Self magazine, who desperately wanted to use the ribbon as a marketing tool, came up with a different color, i.e.; pink ribbons.
Pink Ribbon Pakistan
Today, pink ribbon also known as the Breast cancer awareness ribbon is used all over the world to symbolize charitable organizations that fund the projects and also provide financial assistance to people suffering from breast cancer.
In Pakistan, the Pink Ribbon foundation has been working self-sustainably for the national breast cancer epidemic since 2004. It is a non-funded organization that works strategically to create widespread awareness of breast cancer and to educate the general public regarding the prevention, early detection, and all the essentials of the treatment.
Initially, when the breast cancer awareness campaigns began to function by the Pink Ribbon, it was rejected and considered immoral based on the conservative outlook and attributed it to be a sensitive matter of female sexuality.
During the initial years of Pink ribbon, it not only broke the taboo but also successfully combatted the stereotypical mindset and began to openly talk about the lethal disease on public platforms. Soon the campaign began to receive acceptance within the society and the narrative of Breast Cancer was included in the mainstream media. It was 2006 when the topic of breast cancer was first presented openly on the mainstream media for public engagement. Breast cancer awareness ribbons were wore on the arms to show solidarity with the cause. This proved too be the first step towards the sensitization of the public at large, regarding the issue of breast cancer.
Consequently, the government of Pakistan also began to acknowledge the severity of the matter and included it to be a part of the national health agenda. The wife of Prime Minister, Mrs. Rukhsana Aziz, became the chairperson of the Pink Ribbon. The government announced a total of Rs 2.55 billion for the breast cancer screening programme. Later on a cancer registry was also set up within the Health Ministry Pakistan.
From 2009 onwards, Pink Ribbon worked actively in various domains to educate the general public. For this, National Screening programs as well as Breast Cancer Mammogram mobile unit were launched in many cities, that too free of cost.
Pink Ribbon collaborated with many institutes at various times, a worth mentioning one being the Higher Education Commission. The Pink Ribbon Youth program allowed the awareness campaigns to reach multiple universities and academic institutes and engage with young girls and women. Breast Cancer awareness ribbons were distributed among the girls and women and prominent celebrities were invited as a part of the campaign. The importance of self-diagnosis, risk factors and early detection was emphasized at every point and the young females were encouraged to take care of their bodies. By 2019, Pink Ribbon has been successful in reaching out to over 200,000 young girls every year through Pink Ribbon Youth Programme.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month – PINKtober
October is internationally celebrated as the breast cancer awareness month. The Pink Ribbon hence terms it as PINKtober. During October, the awareness campaigns are strengthened and people from all sectors are encouraged to wear pink ribbons.
During October, the awareness campaigns all over the world gain strength and a series of public and private events are organized to maximize the public exposure for the cause. Numerous strategically aligned movements are planned and executed by utilizing the social power of celebrities, politicians, artists, bloggers and other influential personnels. Pink ribbons also known as the breast cancer awareness ribbons are distributed free of cost in educational institutes and public places.
Social media has turned out to be a breakthrough in the breast cancer awareness programs as it allows connecting with a large number of audiences in limited time. Both electronic and social media is filled with love for the pink ribbons. Media anchors and news broadcasters wear the ribbons in respect of the breast cancer awareness month. People post pictures of themselves wearing pink ribbons on their social networks just to show their support in the noble cause.
During this month of the year, women and girls are encouraged to self-examine themselves and report to the doctor if they feel anything odd. Free mammography sessions are also provided to populations at risk.
On the grounds of this, let us today vow to ourselves that we shall never take our health for granted. Our body is our biggest asset which requires special care and attention. Healthy body and mind are prerequisite to every positive thought and aspect of our life. Thus, make a habit of self-examining your body every 3-4 months. Self-care is a necessity and should be a priority, not a luxury.
- Muhammad Rehan Sarwar & Anum Saqib | Udo Schumacher (Reviewing Editor) (2017) Cancer prevalence, incidence and mortality rates in Pakistan in 2012, Cogent Medicine, 4:1, DOI: 10.1080/2331205X.2017.1288773
- Masood A, Masood K, Hussain M, et al. Thirty Years Cancer Incidence Data for Lahore, Pakistan: Trends and Patterns 1984-2014 Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention : APJCP. 2018 Mar;19(3):709-717. DOI: 10.22034/apjcp.2018.19.3.709.