Friday, May 22, 2015

'Rollercoaster' author wary about cancer story

D.C. article outlines breast cancer myths — but doesn't the lore contain some truths?

Paige Winfield Cunningham
Despite the information explosion online and elsewhere, myths still exist about breast cancer.

At least that's the contention of Paige Winfield Cunningham, a health-care correspondent for the Washington Examiner, who recently wrote an article — distributed by the Washington Post — listing these five:

1. Breast cancer is mostly linked to family history.

2. Birth-control pills increase the risk of developing the disease. 
3. Larger breasts mean greater risk.
4. All women should do a monthly breast self-exam.
5. Breast cancer research needs more money. 

In my view, Cunningham's too-brief summations leave much to be desired, and contain distortions of the truth.

And could lead patients, caregivers and other supporters into dangerous non-actions.

For example, the writer claims women don't need to do monthly self-exams because statistically those examinations don't improve survival rates. Tell that to my wife: She found her breast cancer early because of self-exams in the shower. She might not be alive today otherwise.

Statistics should be used only as a guideline. 

Each person is an individual, and should make up her own mind regarding prevention and, if necessary, treatment.

My wife's choices are documented in my VitalityPress book, "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer" — which, although aimed at males, can be of use to female patients as well as caregivers. In "Rollercoaster," I, Woody Weingarten, show my wife's decisions but also provide an up-to-date look at research and meds, as well as a guide of where to find help. 

Cunningham's last myth, about funding, contains the notion that "compared with other types of cancer, breast cancer research is swimming in money…thanks to a highly effective public-awareness push that began way before any other anti-cancer efforts."

Why not, instead of implying that breast cancer money should go elsewhere, suggest other cancer organizations beef up their appeals? 

I could nit-pick with the way Cunningham presents each of the other three "myths" as well, though their assumptions are basically correct.

Quick, over-simplified lists aimed at gaining an audience generally aren't helpful to potential patients or caregivers, in my opinion — and could, in fact, be hazardous to their health. And that's true regarding any disease, especially life-threatening ones, not just breast cancer.

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