With Breast Cancer Awareness Overexposed, Hard to See Many Patients Want Science, Not Pink

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Nothing has me making a beeline for the exit more  than disease awareness events– and when it comes to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the sheer overexposure of the disease makes me yearn to cover anything but it. I know I am not alone.  Most of us have been touched by breast cancer. It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in the unlikely event that you haven’t noticed. I don’t see how you could miss it: weekend sections in newspapers ran tons of stories, and there will be an infinite number more. Pink ribbons sit on the top of the masthead of many newspapers. My local drugstore is even asking whether I’d like to round out my cash register receipt with a contribution to the Susan B. Komen Foundation. You cannot escape it.

I have been dreading this month. Unfortunately, the pink madness is driving people away. “I ignore the breast cancer stuff because I strongly feel they are hogging the limelight,” an independent reporter told me. “There are plenty of other diseases. My mom died of breast cancer, but I resent their intrusion for an entire month.” When I asked another colleague how she planned to get through the onslaught of news, she responded emphatically: “With earplugs and blinders.”

Fortunately, many thoughtful bloggers and advocates, like @jodyms, @harriseve, @MarilynMann, and Fran Visco are dedicated to educating the public about risk, science, and optimal decision making. I’ve also just discovered Gayle Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues. Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS), the groundbreaking women’s health collective turned 40 this weekend, releasing an updated edition. It has been a critical force, in pushing for fair and scientifically based women’s health care first in the United States, and now setting its goals on global health. I applaud them all.

I have been working hard on another post on breast cancer that will address some of the science or lack thereof that underpins breast cancer initiatives. In the meantime, I am curious what you folks think. IMO, the discussion needs to move away from the pink ribbon to considering far less frivolous issues.

But the larger question is this: If you could pick the top 3 concerns for patients with breast cancer, what would they be?

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7 Responses to With Breast Cancer Awareness Overexposed, Hard to See Many Patients Want Science, Not Pink

  1. Jody Schoger says:

    Laura,

    When breast cancer survivors can’t stand to see October coming we know we have a problem…..

    I am fortunate to be a 13-yr survivor of a locally advanced breast cancer. In l998 that was a scary diagnosis. But here I am. As I read the breast cancer community today the three top concerns are:

    1) how do we prevent metastatic disease? (not just recurrence, which can be different)

    2) what what can we do to prevent recurrence?

    3) we need more science to help us understand the interplay between biology and environment.

    Thank you for asking good questions:) They all matter.

    Jody

  2. MJ says:

    more science, research and trials to:
    support prevention (including research on environment/carcinogenic effect) AND
    to better understand which bcs may or may not need to be aggressively treated AND
    to gain insight into what the minimal most effective treatments are – balancing QoL, future risk of bc, future risk of adverse side effects from treatment with risk of the presented bc

    better treatment and prevention for metastatic disease

    availability of drugs (not just a bc issue, but scary to see reports yesterday about a hospital having only ~1mo of Taxol avail)

  3. Natasha Das says:

    Laura,

    Breast Cancer Awareness still has a long way to go, at least in my country. I conduct breast cancer awareness programs throughout the year (yes, there is a slightly increased enthusiasm about such programs during October and March, the women’s month).

    It concerns me to see the lack of awareness among women here. Some believe both breasts should ideally be of the same size. Some believe that inverted nipples is an abnormality. Others believe (because they have read about the benefits of breastfeeding) that breastfeeding ‘prevents’ cancer and those who breastfeed NEVER get breast cancer. They cannot believe men can have breast cancer too. There are many such myths that I try to bust.

    I feel that cancer survivors know quite a bit about the disease because they try to read extensively about it. However, the apparently healthy woman really does not keep abreast of her breast health unless continuously goaded to do so. Maybe this is a situation only in some countries but that’s my observation here in India.

    - Natasha

  4. sandy says:

    Attended a football game on Saturday evening that was sponsored by the S——d Cancer Center. On the big screen, they showed clips of interviews with healthcare providers, patients and also factoids about who gets cancer and treatments. I think they were ill-advised to use a sporting event as a venue to promote breast cancer awareness. I am sure that I was not the only one that was annoyed.

  5. Felicia says:

    1. Keeping it away (N.E.D.)
    2. Dealing with the fear of recurrence after treatmen is complete.
    3. Hoping the treatment options don’t expire before they do if it does come back

    These were/are my three, anyway…

  6. David says:

    Somewhat provocative, thx for putting yourself on the line by writing. Years back, in my more activist days, I helped fight for more funding in HIV-related research. I remember comments “why should this get funded when breast cancer and other cancers kill more people?” Seems to me we need to get away from an either-or approach to funding health research.
    What health education strategies might assure that women conduct self-exams, get regular exams by health professionals? What strategies can we implement to make it easier for all women to have access to exams? Skip the ribbons – how do we set up more health fairs at which women can receive appropriate screening without distance or cost being a barrier?
    What does the data tell us about the factors that lead to different outcomes for cohorts of women with comparable types of cancer? Are there potential interventions to improve outcomes for women with poorer outcomes?

  7. aidel says:

    I hate the pink ribbons. What the pink ribbon does succeed in doing is separating the real (and really awful) experience of breast cancer from what I can only call a breast cancer product (a strange product, if you have it, it will some how ward off the real thing). And where is the hoopla about the far more deadly ovarian cancer? Am I the only one cynical enough to think that this whole campaign has taken off because it’s about *breasts,* symbolically feminine, and hey, men like ‘em too….

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