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National Breast Cancer Awareness Month: "No one should face breast cancer alone"

by Dr. Stacey Dawson, Senior Women's Health Nurse Consultant, Division of Nursing Services

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is observed in October each year to promote screening and prevention of breast cancer. This observance provides a focused time to support patients and families facing a breast cancer diagnosis; educate people about breast cancer risk factors, emphasizing the importance of regular screening starting at an age that is appropriate for their personalized risk; and to fundraise for breast cancer research. This year’s theme is “No one should face breast cancer alone.” This theme serves as a reminder for providers to consider the many ways they can partner with patients and families in the prevention, detection, and treatment of breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Native women and the second leading cause of cancer death. As health care providers, we know the best actions against breast cancer are prevention and early detection through appropriate screening. One measure utilized to monitor screening performance within the Indian Health Service is the target mammography screening rates of the Government Performance and Results Act. This is reported as the percentage of women ages 52 to 74 years of age who have had mammography screening within the previous two years. The last completed year results show a 29.2% screening rate, falling short of the 39.7% national target rate. This month especially, we consider action items that can result in improved screening rates both at the local and national levels.

One thing the health care team can do to increase prevention and screening efforts is to educate patients in ways they fully understand, being mindful of health literacy in both spoken and written words. We recommend that health care providers discuss recommended prevention and screening measures with patients on an individualized basis, and to become familiar with American Indian and Alaska Native-specific resources from the Indian Health Service and the American Indian Cancer Foundation. These resources offer a wealth of references and culturally-specific patient education materials, including toolkits, infographics, and general information on breast health and self-examination. We encourage the use and sharing of these resources to promote awareness for both patients and staff.

The IHS has a variety of activities planned to promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with a focus on breast cancer prevention and screening. Please participate in the planned activities for October to the extent you are able, and encourage others to do so as well.

  • October 12 at 2:00 pm ET: “What We Should Know about Breast Cancer” Town Hall with IHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Loretta Christensen and other guests – register here.
  • October 19: Indigenous Pink Day – a National Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign for Native people. Wear pink, share photos, and plan local activities to spread awareness.

Please join the Office of Clinical and Preventive Services, this and every month, in prioritizing breast cancer awareness, screening, and prevention, and determining how we can best partner with patients, families, providers and communities to raise the physical, mental, social and spiritual health of American Indian and Alaskan Natives to the highest level.

Breast Cancer Patient Education Materials

Dr. Stacey Dawson, Senior Women's Health Nurse Consultant, Division of Nursing Services

Capt. (Ret.) Stacey Dawson, PhD, MSN, CNM serves as the Indian Health Service senior women's health nurse consultant within the Division of Nursing Services.