Monday, 25 August 2008

Breast Cancer: Fear Campaigns Can Be Counter-productive

The Gazette story on Saturday was “heart warming.” It chronicled the struggle of a 40 year old woman against breast cancer. The message was: she was brave, and a fighter but the disease her killed so we should all go out and raise money for cancer research.

The story was a lead up to a fundraising march last Saturday, which apparently came up with $6 million. The march went by our house, and I had distinctly mixed emotions about it. First of all, while marchers are fine on a residential street, it is no place for honking support vehicles. The organizers showed a disregard for the neighborhoods they sent their walkers through which I find very annoying.

More seriously, however, are objections to the whole approach the cancer lobby uses. They insist: one in nine Canadian women will get breast cancer, and breast cancer kills. That is frightening and unfortunately dissuades many women from getting mammograms.

But the truth is that cancer survival rates are rising and early diagnosis leads to almost complete recovery. I know: just two years ago I was completing five weeks of radiation following excision of suspect tissue, a ductal carcinoma in situ. When I campaigned among my friends and acquaintances for all women over 50 to get mammograms regularly I was appalled at the magical thinking many expressed. What I don’t know won’t hurt me, was the attitude of far too many otherwise intelligent women. They were in effect paralyzed by fear of cancer.

More research into breast cancer is necessary, but campaigns which emphasize the importance of mammograms and the curability of breast cancer are more pressing. They don't have the bling of ladies marching along together decked out in pink, but they'll save more lives.

And please don’t honk your horn in front of my house. I've already paid my dues.


Haralee said...

Mary, you survived, so why not get out there and join them. Your voice can be heard.

Mary Soderstrom said...

It's this "survivor" business which I think is so counter-productive. To be sure, there seems to be a difference between the ravaging breast cancer which strikes younger women, and the usually slower growing one that older women have. Spurring research for the former is quite important.

But, as I said in the post, when I started a campaign among my friends and acquaintances to get older women to have mammorgrams regularly, I was shocked to see how many were dragging their feet out of fear. For older women, breast cancer is not a death warrant, but you need to act in a timely way.

Free mammograms in places without universal health care, campaigns to get women to get them regularly, and a measured approach to just what is involved with treatment for early stage, older-onset breast cancer would be much more effective, I'm convinced, the whole scare mentality that is wrapped up in talk of "surviving" breast cancer and scare-mongering.

who has posted several times on the importance of mammorgrams already