It’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Monthâ€”and pink is exploding around us virtually everywhere! And because it is the month of awareness, media relations people are working overtime to get stories about new breast cancer research into the news. Some of these stories will have substance. Others will be merely hype. So, as you listen to these stories, remember to be a skeptical consumer of health news, ask questions, and remember the adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And if you’re in need of substance and sustenance, please tune in and watch me on the TODAY show on Friday, October 8, for a discussion about breast cancer truths and misconceptions. You can submit your questions that you’d like me to answer on the show here.
If I sound like a naysayer, it’s because that’s how this month now makes me feel. As I told a reporter for the Los Angeles Times last week, I really do think that National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was helpful when it was first established. But at this point I believe it has outlived its usefulness.
For one thing, how much more “aware” do we think women can be? It’s gotten to the point where awareness campaigns are now being targeted at teenagers. Do we really think that telling teens about breast cancer is going to do anything to reduce the number of deaths we have each year from breast cancer?
Secondly, all of the awareness campaigns seem to reiterate the same message: the best prevention is early detection. But early detection is not prevention. It’s finding a cancer that’s already there. And while the idea of finding breast cancer early might make you feel like you have some control over breast cancer, it doesn’t address what we now know about how cancer develops.
We used to think that all cancers started out small and grew at the same pace, so that if we caught the cancer early it wouldn’t metastasize. We now know that’s not the case. There are, in fact, many different types of breast cancer. There are some tumors that grow so slowly that even if we left them inside a woman’s breast they would never go on to do any harm. And there are others that spread so quickly that they have metastasized to other parts of the body before you could feel a lump in your breast or the tumor could be seen on a mammogram. The problem is that we don’t know how to tell them apart. This means that there are some women who get aggressive treatment who don’t need it, and others for whom are “early detection” efforts have failed.
What we need to do is focus on what causes breast cancerâ€”because if we can find the cause, we can prevent people from getting it in the first place. This is precisely what we are trying to do through our research program, the Army of Women and the soon to be launched Health of Women study! And this is the message that I want people to hear!
So, this October, instead of just buying something pink to do “something” about breast cancer, please support the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation by making a donation in honor or in memory of someone you love or by supporting one of our generous partners who believes, like we do, that it’s time to go beyond awareness and beyond a cure and end this diseaseâ€”now!