Let’s Talk about Breast Cancer

*Disclaimer: I am not a breast cancer patient or survivor. Hence, I discuss the disease as someone learning about it.


Let’s talk about breast cancer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Also called Pink Month, it’s a global effort "to educate those concerned about the disease, including early identification and signs and symptoms associated with breast cancer,” according to the World Health Organization. This effort serves as an opportunity—and a reminder—to learn about breast cancer and do what we can to lower our risk.


Breast cancer is prevalent worldwide, and Japan is no exception to this. Globally, in 2020, 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 685 000 people died from the disease, according to the United Nations. The National Cancer Center Hospital reports that Japan had 94 519 breast cancer cases in 2018; women comprised 93 858, and men 661. The Hospital also says in 2019, breast cancer was the leading cancer type among women and, among cancer types, had the fifth-highest number of deaths. Furthermore, in 2020, Japan's death toll from the disease was 14 779 cases, again reported by the Hospital. Statistics are more than numbers; each number is a life, a story, and affects countless lives.


Awareness can lead to action. We have ways to understand breast cancer and act based on the information. In Japan, RFTC Japan—a foundation focusing on breast cancer awareness and support—shares resources and organizes events in and outside Tokyo. It hosts outreach programs such as free “Hana-Me" seminars and fundraisers. It has a support group and publishes magazines with survivors’ stories and updated information on breast cancer. Maria Sakiko Suzuki, the organization's Program Awareness Manager, encourages people, especially women, to educate themselves about the disease. She encourages us, whether in our twenties or forties, "to take the first step—to get annual tests such as mammograms, ultrasounds, and to do self-checks,” acknowledging that many people postpone tests due to misconceptions, uncertainty, and anxiety. Although the process can feel overwhelming, reading about the disease, finding hospitals that accept tests, speaking with someone we trust, or contacting an organization can help identify and treat symptoms. It’s not too early to start.


October is an opportunity to learn about breast cancer. It’s a common disease in and outside Japan, but with the correct information and resources, we can better understand it and take measures to lower our risk. So this month, let’s sign up for a mammogram or an ultrasound, do a self-check, join a seminar, and support organizations or companies that support breast cancer awareness. Our body is our choice and responsibility, not only in October but also throughout the year. Let’s stay informed and get involved. Every step matters.


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