The ubiquitous pink ribbons are back.

So are the numerous fund-raisers and information campaigns, as Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2010 marks the end of a decade of declining incidence and mortality rates for the disease.

Following a 20-year span in which breast cancer rates increased slowly but steadily, the first decade of the new millennium saw a two percent decrease in breast cancer among American women, while the mortality rate since 1990 has dropped an incredible 30 percent.

Still, the battle "” particularly on the informational front "” continues.

"We've come a long way, but it's not a fight that we're ever going to win. We still need to make sure women are aware of the risks of breast cancer and the options for treatment," explains Toni Carle, the nurse manager of St. Elizabeth Healthcare's Women's Wellness program, which conducts more than 30,000 mammography screenings annually.

From those screenings, she says, there are nearly 7,000 new diagnoses of breast cancer each year.

"Every year we see fewer cancer diagnoses mainly because, nationally, we've done such a good job of getting information out there, but it's still a battle that needs fighting," she adds.

With nearly 200,000 new diagnoses of breast cancer among U.S. women each year, and more than 40,000 deaths, according to Centers for Disease Control statistics, that much is clear.

Breast cancer advocacy groups also have drawn their lines in the information battle, and say there are key points every woman should know:

Mammography is still the best weapon

"Early detection is still the key," says Bonnie Crawford, program coordinator for the Wellness Community of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, which offers support and education to cancer patients. "It's still true "” the earlier breast cancer is found, the better the prognosis."

After years of making inroads on increased screening for women, that effort took a hit last fall when the U.S. Preventative Service Task Force released a controversial report that said, in part, that women don't need to get mammograms until age 50, as opposed to 40, the agreed standard. That was met with wide disapproval. The American Cancer Society still recommends testing after 40.

"Our stand is that we continue to follow the recommendations of the American Cancer Society," Carle explains. "The task force's research is significant, but the statistics say that one in 50 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer before she turns 50. The concern is women will use the report as an excuse to put off having a mammogram. If they wait, there will be cancers that could have been diagnosed early that aren't until it's too late."

Others agree, including the American College of Radiologists and the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the leading breast cancer advocacy group.

With technology advancements, including the current gold standard, digital mammography and three-dimensional imaging, the next "big thing" in screening, cancer can be caught earlier than it ever has previously.

Both technologies offer higher detail than the old analog imaging "” still in use in some corners "” and are less uncomfortable than the old test, experts say.

Better Technology = Better Treatment

Treatments that once included harsh chemotherapy and extensive surgical options are largely a thing of the past. Chemotherapy drugs have been improved, with fewer side effects.

Today's surgical options are more precise, leaving more breast tissue and making mastectomies less common. New hormonal treatments target cancer cells and starve them of substances they need to grow. Genetic testing has also evolved into a better way of calculating future cancer risks.

"Science keeps advancing, especially with breast cancer issues, at an incredible rate. There's the technology involved in early detection, genetic testing to assess the risk of breast cancer, testing to tell you if chemotherapy will be effective or what kind of chemo will work best for you," Crawford says. "There's been an incredible leap forward in treatment that, now, allows women to keep living their normal lives well into treatment."

You are not alone

Aftercare, once an afterthought of breast cancer treatment, is widely recognized as an important part of the healing process. At the Wellness Community, which specializes in helping breast cancer survivors cope with life after treatment, there are support groups, physical therapy and counseling options.

"Even after treatment, breast cancer can be hard to deal with," Crawford says. "It helps to hear others talk about dealing with the side effects of treatment, to talk about body image issues, relationship challenges "” all the fallout that comes with breast cancer. We now do a better job of helping survivors and their loved ones cope with such a big thing in their lives. More than anything else, it helps to know you're not going through it alone."
 

Women's Issue: Back to Work
 
Make It Work For You
By Colleen Weinkam
 

Whether your baby is 3 months old or 3 years old, returning to the workforce is never easy.

You may face any combination of emotions. Sometimes there is sadness and guilt because you'll be away from your son or daughter for long periods of time each day, excitement at the prospect of returning to a world of adult interaction, concern that your skills are no longer as marketable as they once were, or nervousness about how you'll handle the work/life balance. One thing's for sure: Being prepared has never been more important.

Here are some tips to make the re-entry a bit more manageable.

Make a Game Plan

Before doing anything else, determine what kind of work schedule you want. Are you looking for full-time work or something part-time? Are you hoping to work 20 hours a week over the course of five days or 40 hours a week over the course of three or four days? Making this decision up-front will help later when you're sifting through job options.

After you've hammered out your ideal schedule, it's time to figure out what you want to do. Are you hoping to go back into the same field you left or do you want to try something new?

If it's a new career you'd like to embark on, you need to do your homework.

"The number one thing we tell people is to assess the skills they have in relation to the type of work they want to do," says Beth Cooper, co-owner of the local franchise 10 til 2, a company that specializes in pairing college-educated professionals with part-time jobs. "If you're wanting to do something a little different than the skills you have, then that's a to-do item for you. Go take a class or do whatever you need to do to get them."

Cooper advises to make sure your résumé reflects the skills you want to use in your new job. "Employers don't spend much time at all glancing over résumés," she says. "Skills needed for positions need to jump out at them."

Finally, Cooper says, network, network, network.

"Networking is the number one way to find a new job. That can mean a lot of different things. That can mean telling everyone you know: your neighbor, church, friends, husband, his boss," Cooper says. She adds that it can also mean joining a local professional association or job search group, which offer job postings, workshops, seminars and speakers.

One last important piece of advice Cooper offers women returning to the workforce is to refresh their computer skills. "Computer skills these days are basically a minimum requirement," she says. "You have to update those skills before you go looking for a job."

Line up Childcare

Tracy '™Connor left her advertising job when her daughter was born, but a short time later, she decided she wanted to go back to work part-time.

"I had a huge identity crisis going from director of marketing to changing diapers and cleaning up spit-up," she recalls. "It was like, 'Huh-uh. I need something more."

Now business development manager at 10 til 2, '™Connor says, "I know so many moms who want to be with their kids, who want to be there to put them on the bus and get them off the bus each day, but who also want to do something for themselves."

It's a common feeling among moms who have left the workforce to stay home with their children, but if your kids aren't in school during the hours you'll be away and you don't have a family member willing and able to watch them, you'll need to hire someone you can trust.

For daycare and childcare choices, talk to people you know, use resources such as church groups, mom networks, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and online posting sites such as craigslist.

Once you have a list of potential options, visit each location, interview the person or group of people who would be watching your child, ask for references and compare rates. Ask important questions, such as "How much attention would you be able to give my son or daughter?" and "What is a typical day like?" Also, be sure to ask what you would need to bring for your child each day, and what to do in the event of an emergency.

Trust Your Instincts

Everyone else may offer opinions, but, ultimately, the decision to reenter the workforce is one you and only you can make.

And don't be afraid to keep reevaluating. As your life changes, make sure your work situation is still fitting your needs. If you find yourself wishing you could switch from part-time to full-time or vice versa, talk to your employer and see if it would make sense for him or her, as well.