Men in pink: The NFL goes to the defense of women with breast cancer

By Steve Savant

Throughout much of the country, the fall colors in earth tones and hues paint a spectacular display of natural beauty during October. But there’s a color in October worn by a greater beauty than nature — the color of pink, worn by American women to draw attention to breast cancer. It’s October. It’s that time again. It’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, now synonymous with the fall.

The pink ribbon campaign started to surface around 1991 as a small grassroots movement. But today, breast cancer awareness is spotlighted on the largest televised stage in the country, bigger than any other crusade, larger than any media extravaganza. It’s now center stage with the National Football League. Welcome to team testosterone, as the NFL highlights their uniforms with pink shoes, pink hats and pink arm bands that stretch over the biceps of the biggest linemen in the league. Men in tights? OK in the day of Robin Hood. But pink? The most feminine color on the most macho of men? That’s the point! It just stands out. And it needs to stand out.

Just last year, the National Cancer Institute estimated 230,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women, as well as an estimated 57,000 additional cases of in situ breast cancer. Almost 39,000 women were expected to die from breast cancer.

Over 2.6 million U.S. women with a history of breast cancer were alive in January 2008. And more than half were diagnosed less than 10 years earlier. This is quite a leap from the Egyptian prognosis of death in 1600 B.C., where the Edwin Smith Papyrus refers to several tumor-like cases being treated with cauterization. But in the 17th century, physicians establish a link between breast cancer and lymph nodes because of a greater understanding of the circulatory system. This led to the surgical removal of lymph nodes, breast and muscle tissue. In 1882, William Stewart Halsted began performing radical mastectomies to prevent recurrences, a standard protocol until the 1970s, where a new understanding of systemic illness led to more “sparing” procedures.

Today, medical research and advancements combined with early detection have impacted tens of thousands of lives; even conservative life insurance companies have altered their underwriting offers based on new and improved mortality.

That’s why the October awareness campaign is so vital, because breast cancer typically has no symptoms when the tumor is small and most treatable. So it’s critical for women to follow recommended screening guidelines for detecting breast cancer at an early stage, before symptoms develop.

So when you watch your favorite NFL team this weekend and see them sporting the color pink, pin your pink ribbon on and join the country in supporting breast cancer awareness month.