Mammogram, mets, and the end of breast cancer awareness month

Mammogram, mets, and the end of breast cancer awareness month
Image designed by Melissa McAllister

Today is the last day of October and the last day of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Pinktober 2015 is over. Maybe I can buy something, a cup of coffee or something, that isn’t pink. Gratuitously pink.

The New York Times offers an overview of the growing criticism of the “awareness” movement, noting that many breast cancer advocates would prefer some action.

“Breast cancer awareness,” critics charge, has become a sort of feel-good catchall, associated with screening and early detection, and the ubiquitous pink a marketing opportunity for companies of all types. For all the awareness, they note, breast cancer incidence has been nearly flat and there still is no cure for women whose cancer has spread beyond the breast to other organs, like the liver or bones.

Read the article here.

The Think Before You Pink® project was founded in 2002 to expose the nonsense, greed, and sometimes toxicity of products sold during Pinktober to “raise awareness” for breast cancer. This year’s focus is “Poison Isn’t Pretty,” in which the Breast Cancer Action group reveals that a campaign to help women with breast cancer feel prettier is driven through with problems. They reveal the following:

Many of the products offered to women in Look Good, Feel Better kits contain chemicals linked to increased cancer risk, including parabens, Teflon, and formaldehyde releasers.

Even worse than the toxicity, the kits are being offered by the American Cancer Society. Read about it here.

Should you get a mammogram when you’re 40? The American Cancer Society says not necessarily and they also rule out the need for clinical breast exams.

The changes reflect increasing evidence that mammography is imperfect, that it is less useful in younger women, and that it has serious drawbacks, like false-positive results that lead to additional testing, including biopsies.

Their new recommendations are here:

Three doctors push back against the guidelines, arguing that screening can save lives and make treatments less invasive.

Finally, we think it’s noteworthy that while there were medical specialists involved in an advisory group, the panel actually charged with developing the new guidelines did not include a single surgeon, radiologist or medical oncologist who specializes in the care and treatment of breast cancer. Not one.

They no longer support the ACS, whose guidelines will almost certainly affect insurance coverage. Read their editorial here.

Forbes did an article about the “Die In,” a demonstration organized in part by one of my favorite cancer bloggers, Beth Caldwell, “The Cult of Perfect Motherhood.” She and others with metastatic breast cancer founded METUP

When Caldwell took the microphone, she summed up her condition, and fate: “In April, 2014, I found out I was going to die of metastatic breast cancer.” She mentioned the slim odds of living to see her daughter, age three, through kindergarten. She told about her son, age eight, asking her husband about how much longer she’ll be around. She shared some bleak statistics about deaths from metastatic breast cancer, and said: “The only thing that will change the horrific reality is research.”

Read about their demonstration and their powerful call to action here.

On her Facebook page, Caldwell called attention to this article in the LA Times explaining why screening may not be preventing deaths from breast cancer, and contrasting it with screening for prostate cancer, which has been successful.

It’s a summary of brilliant research into the nature of metastatic breast cancer and you can read it here.

…screening should result in more cancers being detected early and fewer being found after they’ve spread. And that’s exactly what has happened — with prostate cancer.

The actual research article is available at the New England Journal of Medicine, here.

And while I’m on the subject of love for Beth Caldwell, I want to share a link to one of my favorite ever blog posts. You want to know what it’s like living with metastatic cancer? Read “Life at the Base of the Cliff.” It’s powerful.

So, when someone throws me a rope, what they’re asking me to do is really stupid, because it’s really dangerous. It’d be so easy for that rope to snap before I get to the top, and even if I did somehow make it up there and had “no evidence of disease,” eventually metastatic cancer always comes back. Always.

The blog post is here.

The next time you read about someone selling pink fracking equipment to “raise awareness” about breast cancer or asking you to “save the tatas,” remember that life isn’t pink for most people with breast cancer. We need to do away with breast cancer awareness month and turn our attention to finding better scans, better treatments, and, if not a cure, a way to make it possible to live a much longer and healthier life with metastatic breast cancer.

Farewell Pinktober.

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Filed under: Cancer, Uncategorized

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