October as National Breast Cancer Awareness month began in America but has since evolved to become a global health campaign. Consumers have become increasingly familiar with campaign and it’s ubiquitous pink ribbon – found on many things, from special edition accessories, cosmetics to most recently, dishwashing liquid.

When the assignment came up for this piece, we knew we wanted to talk about address the significance of the month, but weren’t sure just how. The deciding factor came in the form of a department store flyer I recently received in the post.

A large pink ribbon stood proudly at the start of the flyer. I was entitled to discounts on shoes and handbags while cosmetics came with deluxe samples to mark the occasion. Slogans in large fonts screamed at me to celebrate my womanity. As I read-on, something became quite clear. There was no link between the promotional messages and breast cancer awareness or fund raising for the cause.

In a recent article in The New York Times, aptly titled In The Breast Cancer Fight, The Pinking of America, critics accused the pink movement of sugar coating the disease. Despite the large amount raised by charities through the initiative, the move was exploitative of consumers and was just another excuse to get consumers to spend.

It isn’t unusual to find pink-themed products priced higher than their regular versions nor is it unusual to find details of charity contributions conveniently fuzzy. What’s worse are some pink-themed products which are not linked to any charities or actual philanthropic efforts. Consumers beware.

The department store flyer was a stark reminder that breast cancer awareness needed to get back to its basics.

In a report based on statistics from 2003 to 2005 close to 70,000 new cancer cases were diagnosed in Peninsula Malaysia. Of these cases, 18 per cent were in the form of breast cancer. This made breast cancer the most common form of cancer to afflict Malaysians, ahead of lung cancer – the most common form of cancer globally.

This October, let’s think beyond the pink ribbon and learn how we can stay one step ahead of the most common cancer in Malaysia.

Here are five things you need to know about breast cancer awareness.

1. Get cozy with your breasts

The first step to being observant about your body is being familiar with it. Our breasts are different at different points in a month, it is important to know what lumps, bumps and pain are normal and which ones aren’t. Start a log, or use a smartphone app such as Period Tracker (also available on Android) to track these changes in relation to your cycle.

2. Self-examination

Yes, remember that illustration of a woman touching her breasts in circular motion that made you squeamish at the doctor’s office? Don’t look away this time because it may save your life.

You may also get your doctor to show you how to conduct a self-examination.

A graphical example by the Breast Cancer Welfare Association of Malaysia of the size of lumps different form screening methods can detect.

Image source: Breast Cancer Welfare Awareness Malaysia

3. Screening 

Annual screenings can be in the form of mammograms or ultrasound in addition to physical examination by your doctor. Globally, breast cancer may often be seen as a disease affecting older women but in Asia, it is common for breast cancer to occur in women below 50.

In Malaysia annual screenings with the inclusion of mammograms are encouraged for women 35 and above. For women below 35, the National Cancer Society of Malaysia recommends ultrasound and physical inspection.

4. Family history link 

While hereditary links increases the risk of breast cancer in some individuals, it can occur in women with no family history of it. So we say, stay vigilant.

5. Early detection is the key

As with most forms of cancer, early detection is a key factor in survival rates. Here are some statistic on survival rates by stage in America.

Source: American Cancer Society

These are the facts. While we could have easily highlighted the promotions happening in occurence with BCA month, which surely would have tickled the shopper in you, we hope that you take a moment to reflect, check and perhaps share this with your loved ones too. Here are more resources if you’d like more information: