07/01/2014 01:46 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2014

The Complacency of Awareness

Breast cancer used to be in the closet. Not very long ago, the stigma surrounding breast cancer was so strong that women and men felt that they had to hide their diagnosis.

Then things began to change thanks to some very brave women. In 1972, Shirley Temple Black held a news conference in her hospital room while she was recovering from a mastectomy. In 1974, former First Lady Betty Ford went public about her diagnosis and even let the press into her hospital room to photograph her in her housecoat.

Fast forward to 2014. The pink ribbon is ubiquitous. Countless walks, runs, relays and races take place annually. In 2014, it is safe to say we are aware. In fact, we have become complacent in our awareness.

What are we aware of? That breast cancer exists. That every woman is at risk. But awareness masks the hard truths that cannot be made better with a little pink ribbon, like the fact that people are still dying. Breast cancer kills about 40,000 women and 450 men each year in the United States, 522,000 around the world. Awareness alone will never save them. But prevention can.

It is time to acknowledge the benefit we have achieved from awareness, and move forward with a new approach. The National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) has set a deadline to know how to end breast cancer by January 1, 2020. We know that the only way we can truly end this disease is to make sure no one gets it in the first place.

As one of the actions we are taking in figuring out how to prevent breast cancer, NBCC is currently working with researchers and patient advocates on the Artemis Project for a preventive breast cancer vaccine. That's right, a vaccine for breast cancer. Imagine a world where we do not have to worry about toxic treatments because no one needs to be treated. No one gets breast cancer. No one dies of breast cancer. A vaccine would do the one thing awareness cannot -- save the lives of the women and men we love.

It is time to move from awareness to prevention. If much of the resources that are currently directed at breast cancer awareness were redistributed to prevention, imagine how much faster we could start saving lives. Until then, complacency will be the status quo in breast cancer. It's time to stop advocating for the disease and instead advocate for a deadline to know how to end breast cancer. That deadline is January 1, 2020.

Help us save lives. We need women and men like you, who are disruptive innovators for social change, to take meaningful action. Learn more about the National Breast Cancer Coalition. Get involved. Sign up for our National Action Network and receive Action Alerts with specific actions that you can take to advance the cause of knowing how to end breast cancer by January 1, 2020. Stay connected by following NBCC on Twitter and like us on Facebook. Do it for yourself. Do it for your loved ones. Do it for humanity. Do it.