Breast cancer awareness needs to change


Pink ribbons are everywhere, and we all know what that means: breast cancer. While this has helped raise awareness on a horrible killer and the importance of early screening, it does not address the fact that there is still no cure for stage IV cancer or the fact that men get breast cancer as well. Yes, it is important that we all know that breast cancer is prevalent in our society and early screening saves lives. And surely many lives have been saved by early detection through raising awareness.

However, the pink ribbon campaign neglects men and women with advanced, incurable stages of cancer. In our victory cheers of awareness raising, we grow passive in finding cures for the silent minority. Millions of dollars go into making the pink ribbon more visible. Heck, even the NFL players wear pink for the month of October. Yet, in the U.S., someone dies from breast cancer every 14 minutes.

Currently, many discoveries are being made about genetic factors in breast cancer. The therapies to match the discoveries are slow in coming. And even slower in reaching patients who need them.

Women die daily from breast cancer despite the fact that October is the only month designated as breast cancer awareness month. A flurry of marketing is done by every type of company to be seen as caring about a deadly disease. But, how much do these companies give versus how much profit do they bring in under the guise of raising awareness? Imagine if every one of them really cared about raising money to cure breast cancer. When you see a store or other business outlet with their pink ribbons showing, ask them. Call them to task for their use of the pink ribbon. Ask them if they know how many women in the U.S. die every day from breast cancer and if they even know that 400 men die every year from this disease.

There has been so much advocacy done in the past that women need to get screening mammograms and do monthly breast exams. I doubt there is anyone left we can teach that to. But, the message of breast cancer awareness does not change year after year. We need to change our message. We need more research into metastatic breast cancer and in men

The pink ribbon spreads the false sense of security that we as a society are winning against breast cancer. It lessens the ugliness of the disease and lulls people into a false sense that this is not such a malignant monster. If sticking a pink ribbon somewhere makes you feel better, then by all means so. But, be ready to back up your display of advocacy: know the real statistics about breast cancer and put your money where your sense of duty is (namely raising awareness that more money is needed for research).  And remember that while you may feel you have done your civic responsibility by joining the pink brigade, remember that many men and women are suffering and dying while you are doing so.

Many big organizations, such as the Susan Komen foundation, raise millions of dollars. Yet, the majority of their money is not turned over for research, what is needed to find a real cure. They sponsor many educational programs and public awareness campaigns. But, these days, even your insurance company reminds you to get a mammogram.

Mammograms are very important tools for detecting breast cancer early, when there is time for a cure. I believe every women should have access for screening mammograms when it is indicated. But, I think spending money telling them this could be much better spent into curing the disease. Women suffering from metastatic breast cancer are not served by the pink ribbon or these campaigns at all.

Breast cancer awareness needs to change. We should all learn the real stats and focus our efforts where it is most needed. Before we open our checkbooks to donate, we should know how our money will be spent. If it is in the creation of more pink ribbons, perhaps we should look elsewhere. Breast cancer will only be curable in men and women when we research and develop the right therapies. Anything else is just more spin.

Linda Girgis is a family physician who blogs at Dr. Linda.

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