As you can tell, today marks the start of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an event in our culture that began in 1985 to encourage screening and diagnosis among a population just beginning to replace centuries of stigma and early death with awareness, treatment and survival.
NBCAM has, apparently, done the job it set out to do and now may evolve toward something as remarkable and useful as the original purpose.
Last year, two academics, Grant Jacobsen of the University of Oregon and Kathryn Jacobsen of George Mason University, published their findings from a study of the effect of NBCAM over the years.
They looked at a variety of data, with a keen focus on the frequency of breast cancer diagnoses in November, based on the approximate lag time between screening and testing inspired by the heightened awareness.
They found that since the advent of NBCAM, both screening and diagnostic rates had increased markedly. Because early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer are associated with higher survival and lower treatment costs, the cultural focus had contributed markedly to the health and well-being of society.
But the significant gains had been achieved some 10 years earlier. The Jacobsens found, "The proportion of women who reported having a mammogram in the previous two years increased significantly from 29 percent in 1987 to 70 percent in 1999."
The critical work of NBCAM had been achieved by the mid-1990s. After that, the effect, as measured in the November numbers, had basically flattened out. The Jacobsens wrote, "We hypothesize that the declining effect of NBCAM is due to an increase in routine screening, as opposed to event-driven screening among women in the United States."
Yet NBCAM has, if anything, grown as a cultural and marketing phenomenon. Socially aware, pro-woman individuals and groups -- businesses, politicians, and national entertainment and athletic events -- use pink ribbons and other trappings of breast cancer awareness to signal their support for women, health and mainstream medicine.
While NBCAM still enables fundraising for research and support for breast cancer patients and survivors, there appears to be potential for this movement to broaden and share its spotlight with looming and unaddressed needs in preventive health care.
It wouldn't be the first time a health care campaign achieved such success that it was able to broaden its scope and perform even greater social good.
Maybe it is time, again.