October is More than Just Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Everyone knows that October is breast cancer awareness month, and that's great. With the frequency of breast cancer diagnoses every year (about one in eight women will develop it throughout her lifetime), it is most certainly vital that we be aware and help to fund research, treatment, support groups, etc. Yes we need all these things, and breast cancer is a challenging disease. But to be honest, I feel like we are all quite aware of breast cancer. How much more aware could we be? Every fall, soccer teams across the country wear pink socks, professional football players wear pink cleats, and there are pink ribbons everywhere. Why don't we do the same for other conditions? February is heart health month; more women die every year from heart disease than breast cancer, and hardly anyone talks about it. Women don't seem to be afraid of heart disease, and many doctors seem not to recognize it as a women's disease. Ovarian cancer is less common than breast cancer, true, but it's typically far more deadly because we don't have good screening tools for it, and it doesn't have clear symptoms or warning signs. So where are the teal ribbons throughout September? Who ever talks about ovarian cancer awareness month? For that matter, how many people know that October is about more than breast cancer? It happens also to be Down syndrome awareness month.

What most people know about Down syndrome is that it affects children born to older women. The reason for that is that women are born with all the eggs they will ever have, and as those eggs age, they are more prone toward mistakes in chromosome division. But this is not the only chromosomal condition that increases in frequency with maternal age. For those who think that prenatal screening and testing is geared toward diagnosing only Down syndrome, there are two things to know: first, Down syndrome is not the only chromosomal condition to screen for, and second, results that show that there is no chromosome abnormality do not remotely guarantee that the fetus is healthy. There are simply too many other conditions, both genetic and not, that cannot be diagnosed prenatally. 

How many people know that October is about more than breast cancer? It happens also to be Down syndrome awareness month.

Janice Berliner, 2020

A few facts about Down syndrome that you might not know: it is, by far, the most common chromosomal condition, with more than 400,000 people currently living with Down syndrome in the U.S. However, it is almost never hereditary. It's genetic only insofar as it involves an extra set of the genes on chromosome 21 that result from a sporadic error in chromosome division. But 95% of cases do not run in families, and nothing a parent does or does not do is known to cause Down syndrome during pregnancy. And while the incidence of Down syndrome does increase in frequency with the mother's age, around 80% of Down syndrome babies are born to mothers under the age of 35, because these mothers are less likely to have prenatal screening. It's important to know that individuals with Down syndrome are at an increased risk of some medical conditions, such as congenital heart defects, respiratory issues, hearing problems, Alzheimer's disease, leukemia, and thyroid disorders. While individuals with Down syndrome experience cognitive delays, these are often mild to moderate, and most people with Down syndrome lead fulfilling and productive lives.

National Down Syndrome Awareness Month is sponsored by the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) created to celebrate people with Down Syndrome, make others aware of their abilities and accomplishments, and encourage those with Down Syndrome to speak out to educate others. To learn more, visit https://www.ndss.org/syndrome-awareness-month-means/

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