Sexism and Breast Cancer

Posted on: March 26th, 2010 by
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It’s bad enough to struggle with breast cancer, but to add insult to injury is this societal notion that, somehow, women are to blame for their disease.

Take a recent Associated Press article, for example, reported from Barcelona, Spain, on how to avoid breast cancer.

Yes, that’s right. How to avoid breast cancer.

Based on a recent “study” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, “25 to 30 percent of breast cancer cases could be avoided if women were thinner and exercised more.” The article specifically points to the Western lifestyle (poor diet and poor fitness) as a culprit in causing the disease.

According to the article, Carlo La Vecchia, who is the head of epidemiology at the University of Milan has said, “‘What can be achieved with screening has been achieved. We can’t do much more. It’s time to move on to other things,'” meaning lifestyle changes.

Uh, Carlo, you are in the field of medicine, which is always finding new screening methods. Please. please don’t tell us women that the buck stops with mammograms, MRIs, and ultrasounds. And please don’t tell us that science does not advance.

The article is full of fallacies. Here’s one: “Many breast cancers are fueled by estrogen, a hormone produced in fat tissue. So experts suspect that the fatter a woman is, the more estrogen she’s likely to produce, which could in turn fuel breast cancer. Even in slim women, experts believe exercise can help reduce the cancer risk by converting more fat into muscle.”

(Do you notice the insulting terms of “thinner” and “fatter” in this article? Sounds like female-bashing to me.)

Anyway, onto this fallacy: Many, many women are fit and eat well and still are diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in this category when I was diagnosed with estrogen-positive breast cancer. The reason we are seeing an increase in the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer is because of better screening tools. I do believe that eating well and exercising contribute to overall wellness, but to say these strategies prevent breast cancer?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

There are also many breast cancers not receptive to estrogen. Why, oh why, didn’t the article discuss that? I guess the people doing the study were estrogen-focused. And obsessed with thinness. And you know what that means….

Blame-the-Female-for-Breast-Cancer.

Even women are getting into the female-bashing act. Dr. Michelle Holmes of Harvard University, “said people might wrongly think their chances of getting cancer depend more on their genes than their lifestyle.’The genes have been there for thousands of years, but if cancer rates are changing in a lifetime, that doesn’t have much to do with genes’ she told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

OK, so this is what I learned from high school biology. Genes mutate.

Here I go again: cancer detection is increasing due to better screening tools and awareness campaigns.

Also quoted is Karen Benn, a spokeswoman for Europa Donna, a supposedly patient-focused breast cancer group, who concurs with the aforementioned “experts”: “‘If we know there are healthier choices, we can’t not recommend them just because people might misinterpret the advice and feel guilty,’ she said. ‘If we are going to prevent breast cancer, then this message needs to get out, particularly to younger women.'”

OK, mixed messages again: Women shouldn’t feel guilty, but here’s an article telling us what we women are doing wrong to get breast cancer.

The article also says drinking less alcohol may reduce the breast cancer risk. Well, now that’s just grasping for straws to go with that drink.

Now, women, don’t despair. The article does throw us a bone: “The American Cancer Society Web site says the connection between weight and cancer risk is complex.”

Duh.

But then the ACS aims that bone at our heads with a comment about how exercise can prevent breast cancer.

Yeah, and maybe flying to the moon can prevent breast cancer.

When I asked my doctors what caused such a health-minded individual like me to get breast cancer, they said I may have had a genetic disposition for it or that they didn’t know — that nobody really knew what caused breast cancer.

I respect those responses. These doctors admitted they didn’t have the answers. I just wish some media outlets would do the same.

The article can be accessed here:

http://www.comcast.net/articles/news-health/20100325/EU.MED.Avoiding.Breast.Cancer/

Beth L. Gainer is a professional writer and has published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on her breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. She writes about a potpourri of topics, including motherhood and her Chinese adoption experience at http://currents-living-discovery.blogspot.com/, and her cat Hemi blogs at http://www.catterchatter.blogspot.com/. Beth teaches writing and literature at Robert Morris University in the Chicago area. She has a guest posting on The World’s Strongest Librarian at http://worldsstrongestlibrarian.com/3597/sharing-a-loved-ones-pain-guest-post-by-beth-gainer/.

She can be contacted at bethlgainer@gmail.com and gainercallingtheshots@gmail.com.

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This blog posting is an excerpt from my book in progress, Calling the Shots: Coaching Yourself Through the Medical System. Stay in loop for when it comes out. Subscribe to the blog in upper righthand corner.

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