The pink paper to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month has become a tradition at the Courier and one we’re proud to continue today.

The progress doctors have made against the disease in the past few decades is stunning. Let’s start with the fact that they’ve realized it’s not really a single type of cancer and that treatments should vary accordingly. It sounds like a minor detail, but it’s the kind of realization that creates medical revolutions.

Modern medicine has also made breast cancer survivable at astonishing rates. That comes with a major catch, though. The American Cancer Society says the five-year survival rate, a standard measure for cancers, for women with breast cancer in the earliest stages is 100 percent. Even stage two cancer has a five-year rate of 93 percent.

Not surprisingly, the rates go down the more advanced the cancer is. Once it spreads, the survival rates decline significantly. That makes early detection very important. Mammograms are the gold standard for detection, but there has been confusion in recent years about who should have them, how frequently, and when they should start.

And part of that confusion is due to different guidelines by different organizations. The Mayo Clinic offers routine, annual screening beginning at age 40. The American Cancer Society recommends screenings beginning at age 45. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women begin routine screening at age 50. On top of that, all of those groups say the recommendation can change depending on a woman’s specific risk and other factors.

That leaves one very important message. It is very important for women to talk with their doctors and figure out what makes sense for them. It might be advisable for someone with a history of breast cancer in the family to begin screening earlier. Someone with no history might feel comfortable waiting until the later age ranges.

Beyond mammograms, experts also recommend self-examinations. If performed on a routine basis, those exams can help women spot changes early and get them checked out quickly.

Without those discussions and the information they can offer, women take away the option of being their own advocate. When they have the information to make informed decisions and are able to advocate for their own care, they are in a better position to persuade doctors and get the treatments they need. It’s a cliché, but knowledge really is power in these situations.

It’s likely that treatment options and survival rates for breast cancer patients will continue to increase. But it’s also true that the end of the disease isn’t just around the corner. There will be a fight for the foreseeable future.

That’s why the paper is pink today. That’s why we have the pink ribbon yard signs for sale here. A portion of those proceeds will benefit research and treatment.

We believe cancer in all its forms can eventually be overcome. But until that time, we’re proud to stand with patients and survivors and use what influence we can to raise awareness.

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