At Girls in Tech, we take pride in discussing the big issues that affect our community. We know that some in our community of predominantly women are affected by breast cancer –– the world’s most prevalent type of cancer, which impacts women in 99.5% of cases.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we want to take the opportunity to discuss its impact, and explore how technology is helping to fight it by shaping treatment options and health outcomes.
Breast cancer in the world
Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer worldwide with more than 7.8 million women diagnosed in the last 5 years. According to the World Health Organization, “Survival of breast cancer for at least 5 years after diagnosis ranges from more than 90% in high-income countries, to 66% in India and 40% in South Africa.”
Early detection and treatment have rapidly driven down the mortality rate of breast cancer in recent decades, which is why increased education, awareness and access to healthcare is so vital.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month was launched in 1985 by the American Cancer Society and Imperial Chemical Industries, with the purpose of encouraging women to get regular mammograms. Momentum around breast cancer awareness continued in the early 1990s when Evelyn Lauder (of Estee Lauder) established the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and circulated the iconic pink ribbon that we now associate with breast cancer awareness.
Today, the National Breast Cancer Foundation uses the month of October to celebrate survivors, spread more awareness, and raise funds to ensure lifesaving mammograms and breast health education can be available to all women, including those of underserved communities.
Breast cancer in the workplace
Before breast cancer awareness was boosted in the 1990s, it was somewhat of a taboo topic. We hate to think of women who struggled to access support and treatment, and showed up to work unable to discuss their plight.
Nowadays, there is still fear surrounding a breast cancer diagnosis and how it will affect a woman’s employment potential. Take a look at this inspiring and eye opening roundtable featuring professional women’s insights into working through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
While breast cancer may be more manageable with modern technologies, it can still significantly affect someone’s ability to perform at work.
A 2020 study looked into the situation of women working after a breast cancer diagnosis, noting that breast cancer and its treatment can cause:
- Physical complications such as restricted arm movement, decreased muscular strength, pain and swelling
- Cognitive impairment such as problems with concentration, memory or decision making
- Decreased psychological wellness resulting in depression or anxiety.
Women with reduced work ability as a result of breast cancer have reported less support from their employer and colleagues, and more discrimination, according to the study.
This brings to light the emphasis our workplaces need to place on supporting not only people of all ages, but people of all physical and mental abilities – including those who are recovering from illness. The tech industry needs input from all people – even those who’ve been impacted by conditions like breast cancer.
And while tech needs the perspectives, skills and creativity of breast cancer survivors, breast cancer survivors also need the life changing tech that’s prolonging and improving their lives.
How technology is shaping the breast cancer space
Over the last two decades, technological advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning have redefined cancer care. Particularly in the screening process, AI can help forecast the development of cancer in advance, and assist pathologists in determining the spread and extent of the disease.
Google is leading research into a deep learning algorithm that can help doctors quickly and cost-effectively assess tissue and pinpoint the location of cancer more quickly.
Telehealth makes access to clinical trials and cancer care easier for more diverse groups of patients across wider geographical areas. And the application of telemedicine goes beyond video consultations.
For example in India, mobile-based van screening programs using sensitive 2D/3D ultrasound are helping women in remote areas get life-saving early diagnoses.
Incredible tools are also being developed to help inform cancer treatments. Take cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), which generates high resolution images of how molecules behave. And by ‘high resolution’ we mean clear pictures of molecules that are ten-thousandths the width of a human hair!
This technology is allowing scientists to carefully study how cancer cells survive, grow, and interact with therapies and other cells.
With robotic surgery, a surgeon controls robotic arms using a special console that also provides a real-time, magnified view of the surgical site. This keeps surgery less invasive, and ensures greater accuracy due to fine, precise movements.
Cancer patients that undergo robotic surgery tend to bleed less, go home sooner, and recover more quickly.
What YOU can do this Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Support the NBCF
The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) has a range of resources you can use to educate yourself, and spread awareness on social media.
- Donate directly to NBCF
- Raise funds by shopping
- Contribute to daily activities on the NBCF’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month Calendar
- Take the Mammo Pledge – promise to prioritize your own health and breast screenings!
Support businesses that support breast cancer
A lot of businesses will be contributing to Breast Cancer Awareness Month by donating a portion of profits to breast cancer projects. Look out for offers from companies you already love, or take a look at these epic 10 female owned businesses that support breast cancer research.
Celebrate your breast cancer heroes
There’s no time like Breast Cancer Awareness Month to tout your heroes – be it your bestie, your mum, or a colleague who’s survived or is currently battling the disease.
Why not share a post to Instagram, and tag us @girlsintech.global? We love to see how women in tech are joining the fight against breast cancer.
If you’re currently facing a diagnosis or breast cancer treatment yourself, we’re so sorry you have to go through it. Know you’re not alone. Check out these useful tips on how to work through breast cancer treatment, if continuing work is of concern to you.