Today is World Cancer Day. At Rethink, we think about cancer all day, every day, but today is a great opportunity to work together with other like-minded organizations to further the World Cancer Day mission of reducing the number of preventable cancer deaths each year by raising public awareness and pushing governments worldwide to take action against cancer.

The global cancer epidemic is huge and tackling it can sound overwhelming. Low income and even middle-income countries severely lack basic resources that we take for granted in Canada. But, this year’s World Cancer Day theme “Cancer – Not Beyond Us” tells us that we can do it. The theme explores how we can take existing solutions and implement what we already currently know about prevention (and risk reduction), early detection, treatment and support to impact the global cancer problem.

Rethink Breast Cancer approaches these issues through the lens of young women and breast cancer. While the needs of young women are great and complex, we too feel that meeting those needs is not beyond us.

This year’s World Cancer Day campaign and its four key sub-themes inspire our team to examine the challenges and opportunities young women with breast cancer face.

Healthy Life Choices

Rethink Breast Cancer is focusing on empowering young women to make healthy lifestyle choices that reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. Many young women are putting in long (sedentary) hours at a computer, completing degrees or putting in their dues at work as they embark on new careers. We need to go beyond preaching a message about eating right and exercising and offer practical tools and motivational programs that help busy young women make healthy choices and stick with them.

Early Detection

Rethink Breast Cancer wants young women to get to know their bodies and be breast aware. We strive to take the fear out of considering your breast health through upbeat programs and tools like Your Man Reminder, a smartphone app that allows you to choose a hot guy or gal to remind you to target your breast health. It’s an approach that’s garnered global attention. In terms of breast screening programs and public confusion about when women under 50 should start mammography screening, Rethink encourages a personalized approach. Women should talk to their doctor about their family history, genetics, and lifestyle to asses their own risk of getting breast cancer, as well as be informed about the benefits and harms of screening to determine when to start regular mammograms.

Treatment For All

When it comes to young women diagnosed with breast cancer, the disease often spreads more aggressively, leading to tougher treatments and lower survival rates. It is vital that new, effective treatments are quickly available for young women so they receive the best care for their disease. Moreover, a young woman with breast cancer finds herself facing a number of issues and concerns that are different from older patients. Diagnosis during pregnancy, effects of chemotherapy on fertility, risk of menopausal symptoms or osteoporosis, feelings of isolation, questions about body image and sexuality, childcare, employment, finances and simply navigating the healthcare system are challenging for young women. One-size does not fit all—younger women need age appropriate resources and programs, like the ones designed by Rethink, to help them cope during and after treatment.

Quality of Life

For over a decade, Rethink Breast Cancer has been on the front lines offering resources and programs to meet the unique needs of younger breast cancer patients. We know that other organizations are also now offering more specialized services for younger patients. However, despite an increase in programs for young women, our recent report, Breast Cancer in Young Women in Canada – A Needs Assessment, finds that younger women’s needs continue to fall through the cracks. In response, Rethink Breast Cancer has developed a set of 10 Care Guidelines for Young Women with Breast Cancer to ensure their special needs are addressed in a timely matter. For example, one guideline recommends young breast cancer patients “be given a full explanation during treatment planning about the possible impact of treatment on fertility and… receive options for preserving fertility by a specialist.” We will be launching the guidelines early next month and hope they will be a useful tool for both healthcare professionals and young women dealing with breast cancer, no matter where they live.

We encourage everyone concerned about and affected by cancer to participate in World Cancer Day. Fill your social media feed with positive, proactive messages and show your network that both reducing the incidence of cancer and improving the lives of those with cancer is not beyond us!