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Women Dentists and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Oct. 1, 2004
Pink Ribbons Remind Us of the Importance of Prevention and Early Detection

Pink Ribbons Remind Us of the Importance of Prevention and Early Detection

Breast cancer awareness is a focus in October, when we view the world through streams of pink ribbons. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) was begun in Oct. 1985, when former First Lady Betty Ford, a breast cancer survivor, gave an emotional, televised appeal to call attention to the importance of breast screening. Today, NBCAM ( boasts a prestigious board of sponsors, including the American Cancer Society, American Medical Women’s Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Cancer Institute, to name just a few.

What does NBCAM mean to us as women dentists?

As women and as dentists, we are dedicated to the prevention and early detection of oral health disease. We understand how oral health affects general health. Now, women dentists need to become advocates by adding our voices - 25,000 strong - to increase our collective awareness of breast cancer prevention and early detection.

According to the National Cancer Institute (, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. In 2004, an estimated 215,990 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to occur among women in the United States. Very likely breast cancer has already touched your life in some way. You probably know a mother, aunt, grandmother, family friend, or colleague who has been diagnosed with breast cancer or have experienced it yourself.

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Because nearly one-third of women dentists are under age 35, breast cancer is still uncommon in this population. In 2004, few of us are in the prime age range for a breast cancer diagnosis; however, as we age, we are more likely to develop breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (, more than 80 percent of breast cancers are found in women age 50 and older.

“The expansion of the number of women in dentistry has been one of the major dental workforce trends”1 … and will continue for the next 10 to 20 years. Currently, more than 16 percent of all dentists are women and more than 38 percent of dental school graduates are female. According to the ADA’s projections, by the year 2020, about 30 percent of active private practitioners will be female. These women dentists will soon reach the age when annual mammograms and monthly breast self-exams are indicated.

Become an advocate for breast screening and prevention

New research suggests that only 6 percent of women continue to get screened every year after their baseline mammogram.2 As a woman dentist, you are in a unique position to educate and remind female patients about the value of regular breast health practices as they visit your office once or twice a year for oral screenings. Why not consider highlighting the month-long NBCAM on your bulletin board or in your practice newsletter? When reviewing a patient’s medical history is a good time to reinforce the importance of regular health screenings such as mammography and breast self-exams. Your female patients, staff members, and colleagues will appreciate your interest in their overall health and well-being.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation raises millions of dollars annually for breast cancer research and support. We “Race for the Cure” and some step up for “3-day walks” of 60 miles, sporting pink T-shirts, caps, and the ubiquitous pink ribbons. A host of corporate sponsors and partners collaborate with the foundation. BMW donates a “dollar a mile” when women test-drive an automobile (www.komen. org). The American Cancer Society and Avon also sponsor fund-raising events. Local hospitals and support organizations sponsor a wide array of activities, such as health fairs and seminars, where you can lend your expertise. All these events have a common goal: to raise funds for breast cancer research, education, screening, and treatment.

Through my work at SmartPractice, I am fortunate to have the chance to make a small contribution to the breast cancer cause. Pink Ribbon™ Gloves of Hope was born as a way to combine fund raising with raising awareness. One creative woman dentist captured the spirit: "I set up the pink ribbon boxes with the gloves showing through the top, added pink candles in the reception area, handed out pink carnations to the ladies, and on the bulletin board, described how this supports breast cancer research through the Susan G. Komen Foundation."

That's genuine advocacy in action!

Five early detection guidelines

Following these mammography and breast self-exam guidelines could reduce deaths from breast cancer in women over age 50 by as much as 35 percent and in women in their 40s by 17 percent:

  1. Ask for regular screening mammograms every year if you are age 40 or older.
  2. Seek expert medical advice about whether you should begin screening before age 40 and the frequency of screening if you are a woman with higher than average risk of breast cancer.
  3. Ask for yearly clinical breast exams by a physician or nurse.
  4. Perform monthly breast self-exams.
  5. If you develop a lump in your breast at any age, it should be examined by your doctor and may require a mammogram.


1 Brown JL. Dental work force strategies during a period of change and uncertainty. Journal of Dental Education 65:12(1404-1416).
2 Michaelson J, Satija S, Moore R, et al. The pattern of breast cancer screening utilization and its consequences. Cancer Jan. 2002; 1:94(1):37-43.

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Beth R. Hamann, DDS
Dr. Hamann serves as vice president of SmartPractice and practices dentistry part-time. As a community leader, she developed ‘Hands of Hope,’ a Central American dental-medical outreach program. She consults and speaks on issues important to women in dentistry. Contact her at [email protected].

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Karen Baillie
Ms. Baillie, a 25-year veteran of the dental industry, is currently the health affairs writer for SmartPractice. She is a six-year survivor of breast cancer and a recipient of Macy’s Heart and Soul Award for Excellence in the Fight Against Breast Cancer. Contact Ms. Baillie at [email protected].