22,000 California women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a critical opportunity to promote breast cancer awareness, share information on the disease, and help ensure greater access to services for those women battling breast cancer.

Virtually all Californians will know someone who has been touched by breast cancer. Over 12 percent of women born in the U.S. today–or 1 in 8 women–will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer death for women.

In California, more than 22,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and more than 4,300 women will die of breast cancer in 2013. A California woman dies of breast cancer approximately every two hours.

Increased awareness and progress in the management of breast cancer have resulted in earlier detection, better prognoses and more women empowered to take charge of their own breast health; but there is still more work left to do.

Despite the prevalence of breast cancer and growing general awareness of the disease, one form of breast cancer often receives less public attention and fewer community resources– metastatic (or Stage IV) breast cancer.

Metastatic breast cancer occurs when cancer cells spread or metastasize into other parts of the body, including the lungs, liver, bones or brain.

At present, metastatic breast cancer is rarely cured, and the best that someone living with metastatic breast cancer can hope for is a long remission. The five-year survival rate for those with metastatic breast cancer is roughly 24% percent. Because breast cancer incidence is much lower in men, most men do not screen regularly for breast tumors. Sadly, the cancer often spreads before the unsuspecting male patient seeks medical attention.

Those diagnosed with metastatic or advanced breast cancer face unique physical and emotional challenges. These patients often report feeling isolated, even from the broader cancer community. They also face great uncertainty.

Metastatic breast cancer is a significant health issue that warrants additional psychological, financial, and treatment-related support for those affected by the disease. Pain management can be a major issue, too.

We need cures for cancer, period. Meanwhile, dedicated palliative caregivers must address the complex needs of metastatic breast cancer patients and their families from the time of diagnosis.

Margo Connolly is a Volunteer Legislative Ambassador at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in California.

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