Amidst the buzz of midterms and various activist campaigns on campus — from the ongoing Ward 1 Aldermanic race to activism against the Darfur genocide — Yale students and faculty are wearing their pink ribbons to commemorate October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The student-run chapter of Colleges Against Cancer will host a series of events in the coming weeks designed to increase awareness of the disease and to involve students in the fight. Professors and doctors from the medical campus are also facilitating discussions on breast cancer — the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women.
During the first two weeks of October, CAC co-directors Caroline Edsall ’06 and Stephanie Smith ’07 distributed pink ribbons, lollipops and breast cancer information on cross campus and in Commons. Smith said Yale students showed a definite interest in becoming more involved. She said she considers the pink ribbon distribution a successful venture.
“I see people wearing them on their jackets and backpacks,” Smith said. “I am hoping that maybe in this way our efforts of the past month will continue past October.”
Edsall said CAC’s efforts were successful in raising awareness, besides simply arousing interest.
“A lot of girls we approached didn’t realize that women as young as 18 need to start examining their breasts regularly,” she said.
While students attempt an awareness campaign on campus, Yale researchers outside of central campus at the School of Medicine and the School of Epidemiology and Public Health are searching for more knowledge — ranging from the effects of alternative treatment methods to lifestyle changes — on breast cancer to help bring an end to the sometimes-fatal disease.
“Women between the ages of 18 and 25 are a low-risk group, but it never hurts to get the message out sooner,” said public health professor Melinda Irwin, who is currently conducting a study on the effects of exercise on cancer-prone breast tissue.
Kenneth Miller, a professor at the Yale Cancer Center, also said he supports CAC’s efforts.
“Although breast cancer is uncommon in women under the age of 25, their efforts are truly helping to raise awareness amongst staff, faculty members, the older relatives of students, and the broader community,” Miller said.
Other breast cancer studies in progress on campus include one led by Joanne Weidhaas, professor of therapeutic radiology. She is helping to conduct a national study comparing the different roles of radiation in breast cancer treatment in order to establish whether a more localized one-week radiation treatment is as effective as the standard six-week treatment of the entire breast.
Quite a few people choose to get a mastectomy rather than a smaller surgery, Weidhaas said, because many women are reluctant to undergo the latter option, which involves six weeks of radiation.
Despite the numerous efforts of CAC, as well as faculty members at Yale, some students said they are uncertain of the effectiveness of the campaign. Edsall said she is unsure how many women have actually self-examined their breasts since their campaign began.
Other students said they were equally unsure about CAC’s influence.
“Even though I’m aware I should have started doing monthly self-exams when I turned 18, I don’t necessarily take all the preventative precautions I should,” Elizabeth Sebesky ’09 said. Sebesky said although she got e-mails from CAC, she did not think their presence on campus was strong enough.
CAC members also approached men on campus to encourage them to call the women in their lives — mothers, sisters, grandmothers, girlfriends — and remind them to do their self-exams and to schedule mammograms. Edsall said many men do not realize that about 400 men die every year from breast cancer. Although it is rare, it is still a problem that needs to be addressed, she said.