Editorial Cartoon: Marketing fear

The new breast cancer screening results are out.


















The news didn’t go over so well. Of course, when you actually listen to what the news is, it doesn’t seem so outrageous. Using fear to market this or that seems to be very popular of late — we need to fear terrorists so please do whatever you feel is needed to protect us. If you smoke you will DIE (real soon), don’t drink or you’ll get wrapped around a tree. For the love of God, don’t have sex and Swine flu will kill you unless you get the vaccine. 

It is true that there are women under fifty who will not get screened (unless they have a known predisposition for breast cancer) and some of them will die. The problem is: many more women will get mastectomies and endure cancer treatment for masses and abnormalities that would not have resulted in death by cancer and, in the absence of detection, may not actually have been a detriment to their health at all.

Fear and emotion are powerful motivators. Knowledge advances over time. By my understanding, the results simply indicate that the overall value of early mammogram and self-exam are eclipsed by the potential harm of false-positive detections. This knowledge only comes with time and reasearch. For otherwise healthy women who do not have risk factors for breast cancer (or cancer in general), the probability of contracting breast cancer is less dangerous than the possibility of false-positives and the treatment that follows. In this litigious society, do you really think a doctor is going to walk into the recovery room after your preventative double mastectomy and tell you that the mass probably wouldn’t have killed you, but it’s better to be "safe than sorry?" What about an informed decision?

The study claims that cost was not considered as criteria, only effectiveness. Just about every time that cost is not considered, the results seem to point to less treatment rather than more. This is a giant red flag telling us that the people who make money from this (and other fear marketing) are more concerned about profit than actual care. I heard a news report on NPR where a woman stated that this was an attack on women. Isn’t it an attack on women to be fearmongered into unnecessary tests that could lead to more unnecessary tests up to chemotherapy and mastectomies? Christina Applegate had a double mastectomy as prevention. In her case, there is a history of cancer in her family, but there is at least anecdotal evidence that other women without risk factors are choosing the same option because it is better to be safe than sorry. The real attack on women is that the organizations who stand to make money money from the detection of, treatment of and the folks who sell pink ribbons have so entrenched themselves in the psyche of American women that they have lost the ability to make an informed decision about their own lives.

Yes, there will be women under the age of fifty who will die from breast cancer. If the new guidelines are implemented, even more may die. That is sad and unfortunate, but the real efforts should be undertaken to find ways to better detect and prevent cancer, not to defend methods and practices that have been shown to be inadequate. In the end, however, this is an opportunity for our wives, daughters, sisters and mothers to stop being a profit center and start being proprietors of their own care?

If you are a woman and you want a mammogram or want to learn how to administer a breast self-exam, then do it. If there’s a fight to be had it is the fight to ensure that the tests remain available and covered by insurance for those who choose to have them. Demand information that will help you come to reasoned and informed conclusion about what’s best for you, and not what’s best for a doctor, clinic, or pink-ribbon pushing activist.

Knowledge is power.



I just did some data mining at the National cancer institue web page. According to their own data, at 95% confidence, they report about an eightfold increase in diagnosis/death in women over fifty versus women fourty-nine and younger. For women under fourty-nine, regardless of risk factors, the chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer is around .008%. According to Wikianswers, your 50 year chance of dying an automobile accident is roughly 1%. Perhaps more effort should be spent on protecting women from cars.

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