Through the course of several blogs posts and a lively discussion here at Feminists For Choice an issue arose about breast cancer prevention and detection. Simply put: what are the guidelines and recommendations for breast cancer detection and prevention? This doesn’t seem like an issues at all, a simple Google search should suffice to answer the question and the discussion should be moot.
Yet, what a simple Google search reveals is a plethora of websites promoting breast cancer awareness, a variety of “pink” products and plenty of opportunities to donate. To find actual information on breast cancer the disease a little patience and some knowledge of website navigation is required. Both tools being supplied, what you will find is a variety of facts and figures about breast cancer that may or may not be current (or provide a date at all), and a multitude of contradictory information. Many of the websites I found provided no source from which the “facts” about the breast cancer disease were acquired or provided vague links to home pages of breast cancer research sites, but did not point specifically to where the information was gathered.
The information that was provided focused on detection and treatment with little to no information about prevention. If information on prevention was provided, it was usually vague and was directed at individual lifestyle with no consideration for environmental factors. Sabrina McCormick’s book No Family History explores the correlation between environmental toxins and cancer and the motivations of industries that donate to cancer research while manufacturing carcinogenic toxins, toxins that are linked to causing cancer in the first place. This element of cancer causes and prevention goes mostly unacknowledged in all of the “cancer awareness” campaigns swirling about.
As I delved deeper into research about breast cancer, more and more disturbing ”facts” arose. While I found very little supporting evidence, several awareness websites stated that giving birth before the age of 26 lowers a women’s risk of breast cancer and that Nuns have a higher incidence of breast cancer because the do not give birth. One article proudly proclaimed “breast is best,” stating that “as far back as three centuries ago, scientists linked higher rates of breast cancer among some women to childlessness and their inability to use their breasts as nature intended.” These claims are unfounded and promote a narrow world view of women, while simultaneously working to suppress female sexuality.
In essence what “Breast Cancer Awareness” campaigns do is promote a false sense of awareness while solidifying an actual unawareness about breast cancer, all the while collecting money to continue this “awareness.” The research into prevention is nearly non-existent and rarely talked about. The mammogram (the old reliable breast cancer detecting machine), for which there is a presumed expectation that money donated to cancer research goes towards researching and improving, is old, antiquated technology, and often times does more harm than good. In the last decade there has been very little improvement and development in the study of breast cancer, despite the monies collected and the “awareness” provided.
Overall, health providers do not agree on the best course of prevention and diagnosis for breast cancer. The effectiveness of mammograms is disputed and we are in desperate need for more advanced early detection technology. As supporters of breast cancer research and the people who get this terrible disease we need to be more critical of the Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns, demand better early detection methods and push for environmental cancer contributors to be recognized and more thoroughly researched.
Breast cancer awareness websites reviewed in the course of writing this article:
Kimberly is a law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. When not studying or writing, she can be found devouring video games and books. She is commonly caught muttering under her breath a critique of the consumeristic mechanism that constantly insists on bombarding her personal space.