With all this awareness, why are we still ignorant about cancer?

Early last week, I came across an article published on Scientific American which made me roll my eyes and say, “Of course.”  When Ms. Jolie announced her decision in the New York Times on May 14, 2013 that she had a double mastectomy because of her BRCA1-mutation, I naively thought, “Wow, she is like The Celebrity.  Maybe the general public will actually learn something about breast cancer for once.”  

I do not blame Ms. Jolie for the general public’s ignorance about breast cancer and its risks.  She did write in her op-ed:

Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation. Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average.

Nothing about what she wrote could be open for interpretation.  She explicitly wrote in her op-head that only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation.  The Scientific American article unfortunately reveals that the general public believes otherwise.  

Researchers surveyed more than 2,500 men and women and found that a whopping three out of four knew Jolie’s story. But less than 10 percent could correctly answer questions about the BRCA gene mutation that Jolie carries. 

The myth that those who have this mutation or a strong family history (the category I fall under) make up the majority of who are diagnosed with breast cancer is prevalent.  According to the American Cancer Society’s 2013 to 2014 Breast Cancer Facts & Figures, which may be found here, an estimated 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers result from inherited mutations, including the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation.  

What does that mean exactly?  Well according to the ACS, this

Breast cancer risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives have this disease.

Having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk. Having two first-degree relatives increases her risk about three-fold.

The exact risk is not known, but women with a family history of breast cancer in a father or brother also have an increased risk of breast cancer. Altogether, less than 15 percent of women with breast cancer have a family member with this disease. This means that most (over 85 percent) women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of this disease.

I do not carry either BRCA mutation, but yet I still had breast cancer.  My mom was diagnosed with late stage breast cancer when she was 35, and then terminal breast cancer when she was 40 years old.  I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer when I was 30.  There is no other family history of breast cancer in my family – it’s just the two of us.   Obviously there was a genetic link between my mother and I, but the genetic counselor did not uncover that link.

This Angelina Jolie Effect that the article cites just reinforces my belief that breast cancer awareness does not work, has not work and will not work.  If someone actually believes that Pinktober has saved lives, point me to the article stating that because I just don’t believe it.  We have this inaccurate perception that breast cancer is an easy cancer (is cancer ever easy?), or girly, or not something anybody dies from, which is the complete opposite of the truth.  Let’s abolish awareness or these campaigns because it has nothing to do with its actual truth or helping people.

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I prefer this:

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Race for the Agenda

(Originally posted on Get Up Swinging on February 2, 2012.)

I have spent the last two days really thinking about the decision of Komen to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. It’s taken me that long to really think about what I want to say to the Komen foundation, and here it goes:

Shame on you. You have let me down, and you have forever lost me as a supporter for your organization.

I had been participating in Race for the Cure races since 2000 in honor of my mother. Several of those years, I walked in the Race by myself because it didn’t matter that I was alone. I was racing in memory of my mother. Mother’s Day used to be painful for me because my mom was gone. Race for the Cure helped me feel close to her on a day that used to bring me pain. I go to sleep in nights in Race for the Cure T-shirts. All those years, I believed that I was doing good and something that mattered. My mom was a social worker and worked for the United Way before she died. My mom cared about others and wanted to help. I don’t know much about the woman, but I know that.When I participated in last year’s Race for the Cure, I felt a sense of community and pride. I looked around and took in all the other pink shirts. I saw the various signs proclaiming SURVIVOR. I loved it. I felt that one word they say a lot to cancer patients: “Hope.” I felt it and believed it. I saw women who were decades-long survivor and it gave me faith that I’m not going to die in the near future.

Komen made a cowardly decision by using a lame excuse, “Oh well, we’re not going to fund organizations that are under investigation.” I think I would actually respect their decision more if they just outright said, “We no longer want to be associated with an organization that provides abortions. This is our stance.” Okay then. Fair enough. Don’t hide behind a lame excuse – own up to it. However, my first question: why partner up with Planned Parenthood in the first place? It’s not like they all of a sudden became a place for women to go to for abortion. If it wasn’t political when the partnership started, then why make it political now?

I’ve spent way too much time on Komen’s Facebook page and have engaged with some lovely trolls, who had horrible literacy skills and scientific know-how. In the last two days, I have learned the following:

1.) Abortions cause cancer

Apparently there’s a website called abortionbreastcancer.com which, shocker, tells folks that abortion causes breast cancer. Yeah, that website seems really unbiased. Was the domain “BullshitMumboJumbo.com” not available?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that ACS’ website is devoted to helping fight cancer, not some political agenda.

The topic of abortion and breast cancer highlights many of the most challenging aspects of studies of people and how those studies do or do not translate into public health guidelines. The issue of abortion generates passionate viewpoints in many people. Breast cancer is the most common cancer, and it is the second leading cancer killer in women. Still, the public is not well-served by false alarms. At this time, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.

2.) Birth control causes cancer

Let me refer you to the National Cancer Institute’s take on that.
3.) Women with no health insurance should just research harder for help if they are sick.

4.) By cutting ties with Planned Parenthood and taking away funding for screening, Komen now supports a pro-life agenda.

So by cutting off women’s access to cancer screenings and possibly delaying a cancer diagnosis…. that’s pro life? Whose life are we for here?


5) Poor women wanting free mammograms have this sense of entitlement.

Komen and Planned Parenthood are both charities. They are not the government. Implying that these people are trying to take advantage of the system is inaccurate and offensive. When folks give to charity, that implies they want to help others. When people in need go to charity for help, there should not be strings attached to that help.
6.) Breast cancer is a side effect of birth control.

Breast cancer is a disease. It’s not a side effect. It’s not punishment for being a slutty mcslut who sluts around. It’s a disease. It’s a disease that does not discriminate. It likes young women, old women, Democrats, Republicans, junk-food lovers, vegans, skinny women, overweight women. When you are a bald, sick individual fighting for your life, cancer does not care whether or not you donated to Planned Parenthood or stood outside its clinic showing pictures of aborted fetuses.

When a woman feels a lump in her breast, it is the scariest thing in the world. It’s the boogie man under your bed and hiding in your closet. When you have that mammogram and the doctor tells you that you have to come in for a follow-up, all the hairs on your neck stand up.

Women, no matter their socioeconomic status, should be able to get that lump checked out. By limiting their access to finding that help, I don’t find anything pro-life about that.

There are other charities out there, waiting for your help and donation. I suggest you find them.