Why is breast cancer treated differently than any other disease — including the ones we are most likely to die from?
I went for a mammogram recently — mostly because the breast cancer people would not leave me alone.
About three months ago, I started getting reminders to go in for a mammogram. Not from my doctor, but from the cancer center who does the testing. The reminders were increasingly frantic — emails, letters, texts, an “important message” in my electronic medical record.
It was a super busy time at work, but I finally scheduled the damn thing just so the breast cancer people would leave me alone and quit harassing me.
Like most women over 40, my doctor has recommended that I have a mammogram every two years.
While there is some controversy over the efficacy of mammography as a screening tool, in my mind it doesn’t hurt to go in, especially since it’s covered by my health insurance with no copay.
But I have to wonder why they are so insistent about these reminders.
There is literally nothing else in medicine where they hassle you nonstop if you don’t come in for preventative care.
The cynical side of me suspects that it’s because breast cancer is big business. Breast cancer charities rake in millions, and they pay their leadership lavish salaries.
According to Charity Navigator, in 2019 the executive director of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation made $770,833. The charity received over $77 million in donations and grants and used 87.5% of that for programs and services.
The national Susan B. Komen for the Cure Foundation spent 77.4% of their $125 million in donations and grants on programs and services while paying their executive director $380,456 a year.
I don’t know about you, but that’s substantially more than my salary.
“Do you have any family history of breast cancer?” the clinician asked me at the mammogram appointment, as they do each time.
“No, my family prefers colon cancer,” I responded.
The clinician shot me a disapproving look. Joking around about cancer apparently doesn’t go over well there.
My statement is true though. Many people in my family have died of colon cancer, including my father and other close relatives.
Yet the colon cancer people don’t bug me when it’s time for a colonoscopy. No one from the cancer center or even my own doctor’s office reminds me when it’s time to get them done. I have to remember that myself, then ask my doctor to order it.
If I didn’t take initiative, I would have never had any of the three colonoscopies I’ve had over the last twelve years. That’s a huge problem. Every one of those colonoscopies removed polyps that had the potential, if not removed, to turn into colon cancer.
Now we’re in October and the pink stuff is everywhere.
It’s “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” so you should buy a pink-ribbon shirt, hat, rubber duckie, hammer, bucket of chicken, gun… its madness. But how much of these co-branded purchases actually help people who have breast cancer?
There’s a project called “Think Before You Pink” that aims to increase transparency and accountability among breast cancer charities and companies participating in these efforts. This is an initiative of the “Breast Cancer Action” organization, which is a self-proclaimed watchdog for the breast cancer movement.
“Think Before You Pink” also aims to move the philanthropic focus away from pink ribbons, mammograms, and a ridiculous focus on “awareness” (is there anyone who is not aware of breast cancer?) and instead focus on root causes, individual risk factors, and prevention.
Next time you’re being pressured to buy something pink or get another mammogram, just remember that heart disease and lung cancer kill more people — men and women — than breast cancer.
Ask yourself, where are all the calls and texts and emails reminding us to donate money or get screened for signs of these diseases?
The answer is clear: those diseases aren’t as profitable.