Forget the Pink: The Real Cure is Prevention

Here it is again, October, which is designated breast cancer awareness month. This is the month when all is awash in pink.  At this point, plenty of bloggers have pointed out the hypocrisy and pitfalls of the “think pink” movement, so I leave it to them to continue to beat that drum.

Today, I’d like to present two sources that are helpful in understanding and combating breast cancer. The first is an interview on the NPR program “Fresh Air,” in which Terry Gross interviews Dr. Elisa Port. Maybe some of you have already heard this interview. I happened to catch it during drive time around town. Although Dr. Port doesn’t cover all the intricacies of the various types and treatments for breast cancer, she gives an up-to-date overview of the topic, including a good discussion of the current state of research and treatment related to genetic mutations. I found the interview helpful because it is grounded in the facts, not the myths and rumors, about breast cancer. You can find the interview here.

The second source appeared in my e-mailbox just this evening. I don’t know the fine details of the Rethink the Pink organization behind this website, but I was ever-so-glad to see the focus on prevention beyond the usual “diet-exercise” discussion. This site addresses the environmental factors related to breast cancer, specifically the chemicals in health and beauty products that have never been tested or specifically labeled as carcinogenic. Caveat: It does promote products, but with the purpose of giving alternatives to the usual chemical-laden products we find on store shelves. You can find the site here.

Enough of the pink parties. Let’s get serious about real prevention that offers effective alternatives and doesn’t make us feel guilty.

The Pink Month

So there it was when I opened the carton — that damned pink ribbon stamped all over my eggs.

Yes, it’s that month again, time to be aware of breast cancer.  If the eggs don’t get to you, the Sunday comics will.  I tried to overlook the ones printed in pink a couple weeks ago.  Then yesterday, the sign posted at the grocery checkout said that, if the cashier forgets to ask you if you’d like to make a donation to breast cancer research, you would get a free 2-liter bottle of soda.

Can we all say it out loud now?

This is nuts.

Absurd.

Ridiculous.

Try to find the logic in it.  If we DON’T ask you to contribute, you WIN some soda — 2 liters of the stuff that, for all we know, may help contribute to the very disease we’re trying to eradicate.

I’m all for bringing awareness to a serious topic. (Did you know it’s also Domestic Violence Awareness month? I wonder what the color for that is.) Since I can’t fight the marketers who try to fool us into believing that buying something pink will save us all, I’ll do my best in this post to bring an educated awareness to the topic.

Two items have caught my attention in recent weeks.

First, it’s important to know that cancer is not one disease but a complex set of diseases, and to anticipate a single cure is to court disappointment.  With breast cancer alone, there may be as many as a dozen varieties (in situ, invasive, inflammatory, lobular, triple negative, and then ER+, PR+, Her2 Neg, and any combination of these last three). So, when we hear people talk about finding “the cure” for cancer, breast or otherwise, we need to understand the complexity of this task.  Thus, one blogger has taken Gordon Brown, the current prime minister of England, to task for being overly optimistic about the role Britain will play. You can read about it here. Some of the comments after the post are telling.

There is good news, however, from the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, the group that focuses on people like me. The booklet they’ve just released  (“Guide to Understanding Triple Negative Breast Cancer”) clarifies the confusion about the different types of breast cancer and treatment, and reports the progress of current research targeting triple-negative disease.

Some investigators blatantly state that the prognosis for those of us with triple negative disease is poor. The booklet helps dispel that idea with this hopeful information:

“Studies show chemotherapy works better against triple-negative cancers than hormone receptor-positive breast cancers.”

And this: “After five years, your risk of recurrence goes down. In fact, as time goes on, your risk for recurrence may be lower than that of someone treated for estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.”

And I like this news best of all:  “Most women with triple-negative breast cancer never have a recurrence or a new cancer.”

Of course, I’m hoping to find myself in that group. All of us women hope we never have to be in any breast cancer group at all.  And I hope there are many other skeptics like me who wonder if focusing on awareness isn’t actually impeding progress in finding cures. For more on that discussion, read this column from the New York Times.

To be honest, I’d just like to eat my eggs and read my comics in peace.  Besides, there are so many more beautiful colors to choose from at this time of year.