Health News Review

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:

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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.

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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

Comments

Jody Schoger posted on September 25, 2012 at 10:55 am

Thank you so much for writing on this. There is nothing more disturbing than sound byte headlines when you are carrying a cancer diagnosis. The best thing possible is to do what you’re doing: continue to educate others and ask the tough questions.

If’s difficult, as a survivor, not to become cynical, especially as October approaches. Sometimes I’d like to pull the blanket over my head and jump from directly from September 30 to Thanksgiving. Yogurt lids “for the cure” aren’t going to get us where we need to go.

Thanks again,
Jody

Emily posted on September 26, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Thank you for addressing the “false hope” that the media provides to readers and viewers. As a breast cancer survivor in the making – I was diagnosed in May and am currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments – I have been dreading October. Before I was diagnosed I thought I knew a sufficient amount about this disease and the research to find a cure. Sadly, I was mistaken and have come to understand how much money is put into the “pink wash” and “educating” women about what they need to do once they have the disease rather than finding out what makes this disease tick.

Thank you,

Emily

Pat Battaglia posted on October 1, 2012 at 10:32 am

Well said, Mandy. It is hard for me, living in the aftermath of a breast cancer diagnosis, to see the disease used as a marketing tool during the month of October. Breast cancer is ugly and devastating on so many levels, and consumer products displaying pink ribbons leave me feeling exploited. At least as bad as the plethora of feel-good products are feel-good news stories that raise false hope. They come and they go, and they never live up to their promise. Voices like yours, honestly and intelligently speaking the truth about this diagnosis, need to be heard.

Dee Sparacio posted on October 1, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Thank you for making so many good points regarding the research in Nature. As a recurrent ovarian cancer survivor I too get upset with the pink hype and am nervous when my Teal sisters want to emulate those campaigns. I would rather concentrate on funds going to research and convincing companies to support young researchers than having teal ribboned food or cleaning products.