Apr 1, 2016 - Things to Do

How aware is Charlotte about cancer, really?

Last August, my boyfriend’s aunt was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme, the most aggressive form of brain cancer that affects glial cells. Before her diagnosis, I honestly did not know much about brain tumors, let alone even heard of Glioblastoma Multiforme.

What was even more alarming to me, is that despite the maximum treatment of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, reoccurance is high with most people only survivng 12-15 months after diagnosis and less than 3-5% of people surviving more than 5 years. How could I not know about a disease so horrible, but know exactly which products more than five former contestants from The Bachelor promoted on Instagram? Where were my priorities?

Because I was so shocked by my lack of knowledge regarding the deadly disease of cancer, I decided a research study needed to be done to see if I was the only one lacking in awareness. Since I work at Accelerant Research, a full-service market research agency in Matthews, I have full access to conduct a nationwide survey to a panel of over 250,000 members. I filtered the results to only 240 participants of Charlotte and the surrounding areas to make the results more applicable to our community. While the results of this survey were comforting to me as I did not feel alone in my pure ignorance, they were disheartening as a whole because it proved that we are not aware.


Only 6% of participants said that they considered themselves aware of cancer, with 71% saying they were not aware at all. My self-assessment was that I was neutrally aware; however, when I started creating questions for the survey, I realized that the only cancer that I had awareness about was breast cancer. Is this a marketing problem on the organizations that support different cancers or do people just not know anyone with different types of cancers? That certainly couldn’t be the case.

The results show that this is not the case at all. From a donation perspective, breast cancer was the most frequently donated to holding 49% of the share, even though participants had less of a connection to it (22%). The second and third highest connection rate, lung cancer (13% connection) and prostate cancer (11%), received significantly less donations—8% and 5% respectively. Obviously there is a lack of equality. Why is this?


I asked participants what they believed the top four cancers in men and women are, as well as, the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women. The results show that people know that breast cancer is the most common in women and prostate cancer for men, but that’s it. They were incorrect by significant amounts in choosing the second, third, and fourth most common in men and women, as well as entirely wrong for the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women.


To draw conclusive evidence of the lack of awareness, I researched the awareness months, associated colors, and prevalence of certain cancers. Notably, the first thing that came to mind was pink October’s for breast cancer awareness. Nearly every mailbox in my neighborhood displays a pink bow for the month of October. That one was easy. I couldn’t even think of any other awareness month or color. How upsetting. Turns out, Charlotte doesn’t know much either. While 57% of participants correctly labeled October as breast cancer awareness month, for the other three cancer types, participants labeled the month correctly 25% or less for each (Colorectal cancer—25%, Brain cancer—23%, Lung cancer, 18%). Only 18% of participants knew that lung cancer awareness month occurs during November and it is the leading cause of cancer death in BOTH men and women.


The lack of knowledge of awareness colors associated with cancers was even more disparaging. Nearly all participants, 99%, knew that pink is breast cancer’s color, while the other three cancers had a much wider array of answers. Even though the colors that were recognized the most in the study were correct, they were only correct by a small margin (Colorectal cancer—31%, Brain cancer—29%, Lung cancer—19%). Yikes.


What I am suggesting from this study is that we, as a city, raise our awareness of all types of cancer to the same caliber as breast cancer. We can start small, perhaps by going online and educating ourselves on the most common cancers (Cancer.gov is a great resource).

If you are as shocked at these results as I am and want to do something immediately, I encourage you to take part in the National Brain Tumor Society’s walk/run on Saturday (April 2), at Romare Bearden Park uptown. I will be participating with team “Kiss our BeHines” for Lynne Hines, who will be joining us on the day with her family and friends there to support her. Your donations to this fund will help pay for sequencing the genome for adult brain tumor patient, sequencing the genome for children in Project Impact, and pay for many hours of research. Charlotte’s Brain Tumor Race has already raised $39,647, which is over $135,000 short of the goal of $175,000. Let us all join together to raise awareness and money to help save lives.


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