When I saw some of the news coverage of the breast-cancer-genetics study published in Nature this week, I wanted to hear the perspective of a smart young woman who had breast cancer. I didn’t have to look far. Mandy Stahre, PhD, is one of our story reviewers. She started helping us while she was still a PhD student at the University of Minnesota. She’s now an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Officer at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Washington state. Here are her comments:
I sit here rolling my eyes as I hear the latest round of news stories touting a “breakthrough” or “cure” for breast cancer based on a recent Nature article. I’m not saying research isn’t important, but the media grasps onto any sort of advancement in basic science as the next sure thing for curing cancer. For many breast cancer advocates, myself included, the information contained in the recent Nature article is not new. Many of us have been attending conferences (alongside health journalists) in the past year in which these results have been presented. Missing from the media hype is the caution that an advancement in the knowledge or basic science does not translate into a change in treatment. Treatment for breast cancer will not change today, tomorrow, and possibly won’t change at all based on the recent findings. Clinical trials, pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions, government agencies, these are just some of the players that must work together to test, approve, create, and market any sort of new treatment. It takes time, and unfortunately, reporting that new cures are just around the corner does nothing but give false hope to many cancer patients. Frankly, using the word “cure” with regards to cancer in health journalism should be a clear sign that the writer of the article doesn’t even possess a simple understanding of what it takes to develop new cancer treatments.
This recent media hype causes my cynical side to show. I can’t help it, this is what happens when you are diagnosed with cancer at a young age. October is fast approaching and with it, the “pink washing” of America. I can’t help but think the Nature study results splashed all over the media will be used as “proof” that consumers can make a difference in the fight against breast cancer, not by lobbying their congressmen to increase funding for breast cancer research, but by buying some awful Pepto Bismol-colored hand mixer. Frankly, if companies were interested in donating to help fight breast cancer, then why don’t they just donate the money anyway instead of making consumers buy a pink product? And in reality, did any pink product really help fund the current study described in Nature, probably not.
Publisher’s addendum: a journalist pointed out the refreshingly different coverage provided by NPR – http://m.npr.org/story/161710858?url=/blogs/health/2012/09/24/161710858/scientists-parse-genes-of-breast-cancers-four-major-types