Taking the sex out of breast cancer.

A lack of education about the fact that all people with breasts can develop this disease, and that this includes the male of the species, leads to too many men being diagnosed at Stage IV, with metastatic breast cancer.  Anyone with breasts has a risk of breast cancer and as men have breasts this includes them.  This is not rocket science, but it is something that is ignored in the whole Pink Ribbon thing.  Because of the identification of breast cancer with women, and the sexualisation of the breast, it makes having to deal with a diagnosis is even more difficult for men.  The connotation is that they have a woman’s disease.  Ovarian cancer is a woman’s disease, just as prostate is a male disease, but breast cancer is an equal opportunity killer.

Worse still is the lack of education about the link between breast cancer and prostate cancer.  It seems that many people are not aware that men have an increased risk of having prostate cancer if they have female blood relations who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, especially if they have the BRCA 1 gene mutation.  http://prostatecancer.about.com/od/riskfactors/a/prostatecancerbreastcancerlink.htm   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9215993/Breast-cancer-gene-increases-prostate-cancer-risk-four-fold-research.html

The feminisation of breast cancer, which has as its clearest manifestation the Pink Ribbon, makes getting these messages over so much more difficult.  The public face of breast cancer includes celebrities parading on a red carpet in pink dresses and pink ribbons, crowds of women in pink at a fundraising event and the seemingly endless pink merchandising that is a source of revenue not only for charity but the companies promoting these products.  This raises the question whether we can really make headway towards educating everyone about the things that raise the risk of developing breast cancer, and the fact that everyone is at risk if one of the main tools used is the femininity and pinkness of the disease.  When the image is the pinkness and fluffiness of survivorship, and the dismissal of anything that doesn’t enhance that image.

Metastatic breast cancer does not enhance the image.  This was shown by the reaction to the exhibition of photographs taken by Angelo Merendino of his wife Jen as she dealt with, and died, of metastatic breast cancer.  This was abruptly removed from public view after complaints that the photos were upsetting (they can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kT4TxolpJU if you wish to see them).  Yes the photos are very challenging, but they are also an honest reflection of what this disease does to those it effects.  However the users and volunteers at the original exhibition site found them too upsetting to view because we are not ‘survivors’; we do not fit the image.  They will use the statistics of how many die of the disease, but we are to be invisible and, along with men who have breast cancer, are a footnote to the story, the hook to get people to donate money.

I am not a footnote, and if money is going to be donated because of the numbers for whom this disease proves to be fatal, then a fair share of that money should be devoted to dealing with the cause of those deaths – metastatic breast cancer.


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Health Communications and Health Advocacy

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