In October, one of my favourite clients recently took me to Cancer Australia’s Pink Ribbon Breakfast. For many years now, October has been pink-washed in support of breast cancer awareness. However, in the past couple of years I’ve noticed a backlash against the pink ribbon. People are claiming ‘pink ribbon fatigue’ and others complain it takes centre stage when other health issues or women’s issues are just as important. There is even a book out now in which Gayle Sulik writes:
“…The pervasiveness of the pink ribbon campaign leads many people to believe that the fight against breast cancer is progressing, when in truth it’s barely begun…”
All that pink backlash aside, at the pink ribbon breakfast, I noticed three really interesting things related to breast cancer:
1. If you are going to get breast cancer, Australia is a pretty good place to be. Approximately 14,600 Australian women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2012. And, one in eight Australian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 85. But, the really great news is that 89 out of every 100 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer survive five or more years beyond diagnosis*. This is a clear improvement compared to the 1980s when only 72 out of every 100 women survived more than five years. Australia pretty much trumps almost every other country in the world when it comes to survival. See here for a full report of the stats.
2. Exercising for two or more hours per week reduces your chance of breast cancer recurring. Helen Zorbas (CEO of Cancer Australia, and my very first boss here in Australia) summed it up by saying “… The evidence suggests lifestyle factors such as moderate levels of physical activity can reduce the risk of recurrence of breast cancer by 24% and reduce the risk of death by more than one third compared with inactive women…”.
Exercise! It is that simple.
3. Cancer Australia have nailed it when they explain statistics. They use graphics.
This picture illustrates the number of women (in pink) who were still alive 5 years after receiving a diagnosis of advance breast cancer for the 1980s and nowadays.
See how clear that is? It seems so straightforward because the numbers are presented in a way that mean something.
Another way would have been to say this: “Since the 1980s the absolute risk of dying of advanced breast cancer has dropped by 17%.”. And, another way would be this: “Since the 1980s we have seen a 61% relative reduction in risk of dying of advanced breast cancer.”
See how confusing it can get. Has the risk of dying dropped 17% or 61%?
The first statement is about absolute risk and calculates the risk reduction like this: 28 – 11 = 17. The second statement describes relative risk and calculates risk like this: 17/28 = 61. Relative risk is always a higher number and is often what is quoted in the media as it is more attention grabbing.
I much prefer the graphic!!
*This statistic does not apply for indigenous women or women living in rural or remote communities – this is a huge problem for cancer services in this country.