Building Awarenss, one month at a time
Baghdassarian 110

As we ring in a new year and recover from the holiday craze, we reflect back on the year behind us and look forward to a fresh start. In the months ahead, many people hope for health and happiness.

As you get ready to affix a new calendar to your desk (or download a new one to your phone), take a moment to consider the preponderance of awareness months for 2014.

By designating the month of January to cervical cancer or the month of February to heart health, the medical establishment isn't introducing the public to diseases nobody knew existed. Instead, the designation of awareness months gives all of us an opportunity to focus on the threat of fatal diseases and begin a dialogue about ways to prevent, fight and ultimately cure them.

For instance, during March, famous actors, comedians and news personalities take to the airwaves to urge men to get screened for colorectal cancer. By inundating people with messages of prevention and early detection, Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month has the potential to save 30,000 lives per year. Not too bad for a month otherwise known for its “madness.”

Some months garner more attention than others. With large-scale walks and ubiquitous pink ribbon lapel pins, Breast Cancer Awareness Month has as much of a cultural presence in October as Halloween.

A few are lesser known, such as Parkinson's Disease Awareness Month in April and Stroke Awareness Month in May. But without realizing it, you are likely to see more news coverage and hear more conversations about these diseases during those months than at any other time. Awareness months serve as a powerful catalyst to launch fundraising campaigns and spread news and information about a variety of diseases.

And the effect is significant.

Panera Bread raised $250,000 in October 2011 by selling bagels colored pink in honor of breast cancer awareness. In this new year, researchers battling premature births and other newborn ailments will have access to $23 million raised during the March of Dimes' March for Babies events held nationwide in November.

Without having an awareness month behind it, some disorders might never make headlines. Pelvic floor disease and epilepsy both get much-needed publicity during November (although, because they have to share those 30 days with higher-profile ailments such as lung cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and premature delivery, supporters might want to reconsider scooting over to a less crowded month, like August).

Indeed, problems like celiac disease were once virtually unknown. Now stores and restaurants offer discounts on gluten-free items throughout May – and hopefully inspire people to find out whether they have the disease.

Admittedly, awareness months don't always garner as much attention as supporters might like. September is home to both Blood Cancer Awareness Month and Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19). I'll give you one guess as to which garners more television and social media attention. But on the whole, the calendar is an effective tool to help raise funds and, yes, awareness of a host of health threats.

So I wish you a safe and happy new year – and an informed Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.

– Dr. Ani Baghdassarian is board certified in internal medicine and a member of the Hoag Medical Group. She can be reached at 949-791-3003.

To view the original Orange County Register ​article, please click here