Does Breast Cancer Owe It to Other Cancers?

A/N This is a potentially offensive post, please follow my train of thought to the end, I am trying NOT to be a jackass, and failing. This is just how I am seeing this issue at the moment. I beg you to change my mind in the comments.

Here is yet another criticism of that 2020 deadline, Can Setting a Deadline Put an End to Breast Cancer?  by Geoffrey Kabat. I’ve already blogged about this issue, when that editorial in “Nature” appeared few months ago.

Honestly, I have a few problems with the 2020 Deadline myself, even more now than when I originally wrote about it. My biggest problem is one of the main issues confronted by these editorials: that discovery cannot be forced; it will not answer to a deadline. I agree with this, and even the idea that setting a goal that has a real chance of NOT being met is a bit risky.

But what irks me is in both of these pieces, there is this suggestion, no, AN EXPECTATION that breast cancer activists, advocates, organizations should focus on other cancer problems, not just breast cancer. These activists/organizations have done such a good job of creating awareness (really?), the energy should be applied to other cancers, so the thinking, I assume, must go.

Is it really the best solution for National Breast Cancer Coalition, or any other organization DEDICATED to breast cancer, to handle other cancer problems? I mean, National BREAST CANCER Coalition, see? BREAST CANCER right there in the name. There probably are already some organizations taking on other cancers in baby steps now; goodness knows the damn ribbons for all other diseases exist (stop reducing diseases to ribbons!), and I suspect these groups have adopted some tactics of breast cancer awareness. If so, let us hope these groups learn from pink marketing’s mistakes before they go too far. The deadline has a focus of ending breast cancer, misguided or not, but that is because the whole point of the organization is…wait for it…BREAST CANCER. That is why it formed. Its objective, according to an old address by its president Frances Visco, is to end breast cancer and cease to exist because it would no longer be needed. Why would anyone think it should do other work—to self-perpetuate?

It’s just that the logic demanding breast cancer organizations (which were formed for WHAT disease, again? yes I’m being sarcastic) work on other cancers is flat out faulty. Go with my flow here for a second. This author points out lung cancer kills more women, and says a breast cancer organization should do something about it. This implies breast cancer is just a women’s problem, breast cancer organizations are just women’s organizations. Well, no, men get it too, and a breast cancer organization is about all breast cancer no matter what the sex of the body it’s in; and the breast cancer organization is not focusing on all health issues suffered by women (because it was formed to focus on what disease again? Say it all together now: BREAST CANCER). Yes the opposite is true; breast cancer can be under the umbrella of women’s health. So when he says “The exclusive focus on breast cancer skews one’s perspective by blotting out other opportunities,” does he really mean we should get rid of some breast cancer organizations, and pay less attention to breast cancer because other diseases kill more women, and are therefore more important? Because that is kind of what it sounds like, and that would be incredibly stupid.

Also, I am a little confused and bewildered at the author’s suggestions that breast cancer organizations work specifically on lung and cervical cancers. According to the information in his editorial, the causes of these two are known and preventions available. The reason the 2020 project is in place is to find the cause(s) and some preventions for breast cancer. That would mean, work on breast cancer is far behind the work on these other two cancers. So, is he suggesting breast cancer organizations work on these projects because, what, it’s easier? And what, just say to future breast cancer patients, sorry you’re SOL, it was easier to sell what we already had or knew, because we did not want to invest in even trying to make a discovery?

Perhaps the bug up everyone’s ass is jealousy because of all the attention breast cancer has amassed over the past few decades. I KNOW lung cancer AND heart disease kills more women. Not this article, but plenty of other articles about heart disease always seem to start off with a sentence about how heart disease kills more women than breast cancer, as if the authors are personally offended that breast cancer gets more attention than their cause (read this fabulous rant by a blogger on Tumblr). I know everyone has their own agenda, their own pet cause because it is something that impacts them, and each individual is entitled to their viewpoint and their cause. But picking on breast cancer is just getting tiresome.

Breast cancer organizations are most likely run/staffed/founded by those with personal knowledge of it, which is why they work on it (duh, it is what they know best), rather than, say, heart disease. I blog about breast cancer because I had it. When I get heart disease, I’ll blog about that too. It is the nature of the beast. Should diseases that kill more people get more attention? Maybe, but how does that make those diseases more important, more devastating, than a rare disease to someone who has had loved ones die from said rare disease? Who the hell goes around saying “my disease is more important than your disease because it kills more people”? Breast cancer patients, imagine saying to your ovarian cancer friends “breast cancer is more important because more women have it?” How much of an asshole would you have to be to say that? But it seems OK to imply these other diseases are more important than breast cancer for the same reason. Breast cancer may be viewed as a big ol’ pink bully in disease world, but it is starting to be the one bullied. Apparently payback is a bitch.

color pink

The blessing and the curse of pink marketing is that it made breast cancer seem like the most important and desirable cause in the world; getting a lot of money and research which resulted in treatments that saved lives, including my own, for which I am grateful. But the fact is, pink dollars didn’t stop breast cancer from happening to women, it didn’t even really slow it down, just stopped some of the dying. But not all of the dying. Breast cancer patients still get mets and die, no matter how much pink marketing pretends this doesn’t happen (remember, cancer patients don’t die, they lose their battle). In short, pink has not been a blinding success. So when advocates for other health causes complain about how much attention breast cancer gets, I suggest taking a long hard look at that, and understand there is a dirty underside to pink that needs exposure. And there are plenty of bloggers exposing it, it wouldn’t be hard to learn the truth.

Back to the question at hand, do breast cancer organizations owe it to other disease problems? I’m certainly not suggesting here that breast cancer groups should just turn up their noses and say “not my problem” about other cancers. There are more breast cancer survivors because incidence has not decreased like the death rate. I may feel a personal obligation to advocating, yelling, on behalf of those causes, but I don’t think an organization devoted to a certain focus should split that focus; that is unfair to the people the organization set out to serve. It is difficult to say which is the more compassionate choice here, if there is one. And yes I do realize that new organizations for unrepresented causes/diseases cannot just be created with the snap of fingers. I don’t have the answer; I’m only asking the question. It will take many minds to come up with the solution.

Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

19 thoughts on “Does Breast Cancer Owe It to Other Cancers?”

      1. No way! I love your stuff–though I don’t comment as often as I should. I’m trying to do be mindful of that. We all need encouragement!


  1. I admire you greatly for pointing it out. I have no ideas either, people just want to live. I have mets, I don’t wish to die so soon, but that’s the reality for too many of us. I don’t think running the pink into the ground is the answer, it’s too pervasive and people would be angry… a new campaign building on their road travelled might be a start.


    1. You are right, the pink supporters versus the pink haters thing gets us all nowhere. Yes, I am one of the latter, for many, many reasons (actually I’m kind of against attaching colors to cancers/disease in general, but that is a whole other story). But EVERYONE needs to understand the animosity those with other kinds of cancer have for pink ribbons, and their feelings must be respected. I’m afraid that soon, it will not just be some disgruntled pink haters within the BC community that bring about the backlash, and if everyone else gets fed up with pink, it could be a disaster. I’m not suggesting the pink industry tone it down, cease advocating for us, just, maybe become a little less obtuse. Maybe awareness is a two way street.


      1. Awareness a two way street, good thought… I have been working on a post for some time about pink but I’m convinced I suck at editorials. As most probably did in the beginning, I started out trying to rah rah, unsuccessfully – thinking all that pink was part of my new life and I should accept it. However, what I saw and read made me uneasy. Now, with stage IV, pink makes me feel upset and ignored. Your post opened my eyes to yet another reason we need change. Thank you for that.


    1. Ha ha, and this is an OLD post, but it seems to relevant given the pancreatic PSA blow up. I heard about that, remembered I’d thought about this before, and found I have not changed my feelings much.


  2. Breast cancer doesn’t “owe” anything to other cancers. I think other cancers just want the same respect and visibility breast cancer receives. I have 3 aunts that are BC survivors, yet lost my mom to LC when she was 47 and her mom to LC at 61.
    No one asked my aunts if they smoked even though smoking is a huge risk for BC as well. But it’s the first question that comes up when I tell people about my mom. Implying that she somehow deserved it if she smoked, SHE WAS ONLY 47!!
    There was no support group through the ACS for my mom. She didn’t get the cute pink chemo hats or the BC “big sister” like my aunts got…..oh yeah, and my healthy, cibrant, beautiful, funny, smart mom is gone. 8 months.
    I’m 36. I’ve been offered a breast MRI and mammogram already. However, I can’t get the low dose lung CT scan that can detect lung cancer in its earliest stages because it’s only being offered to 55 year old lifetime smokers.
    So, I’ve seen both sides of the cancer coin. If I get to pick, Id rather get boob cancer. You can live without those and people tread you with love, caring and compassion when you get that cancer. The medical community treated my mom like she did it to herself and on top of that, treatment and research are decades behind BC because of that stigma. So BC doesn’t owe anybody anything. But all cancers should be treated equally. My mom’s life was worth the same as anybody else’s. She just got the wrong cancer. That was 9 years ago. Nothing has changed in those 9 years if I were to get it today. So maybe you need to think of that.


    1. I DO think about “that” quite a bit. I invite you to check out many of my other posts, especially What Do You Mean There Are Other Cancers Besides Breast Cancer? or Want Attention Just Say Breast Cancer (just put the titles in the search bar). Warning, most of my posts, and those titles are sarcastic. I am quite aware that smoking is a huge risk for BC, as is alcohol consumption, as is other dietary choices, something I mention in numerous posts. And I do understand lung cancer patients are often blamed, although BC patients are subtly blamed more often than I suspect is generally perceived (see Did You). I have already been made aware of the stigma in lung cancer, and yes, I was one of those blamers, and when I got my own cancer, learned a harsh lesson about things I said to people with lung cancer (I’ve mentioned this lesson in various posts as well).
      Thank you for your comments. You provide the harsh reminder that I need much work as a writer in expressing my views more accurately. This post was never meant to diminish other cancers or patients with other cancers. It was a criticism of the culture of cancer, especially breast cancer, just like most of the posts on this blog. I understand heart disease and lung cancer are far more deadly to women than breast cancer, I simply write about breast cancer because that is the health issue I have, so far.


  3. Breast cancer doesn’t “owe” other cancers anything. I think that other cancers just need to be talked about just as much as breast cancer.

    I’ve participated in the Susan G. komen breast cancer walk for 5 years. I’ve had 2 aunts diagnosed, 1 beat it and 1 did not.

    But when someone says “i have breast cancer” they aren’t judged and thought to have done it to themselves.

    When someone says “I have lung cancer” the very first question is “do you/did you smoke?”

    So not only does lung cancer have to FIGHT for research, FIGHT for funding and FIGHT for better prevention, lung cancer patients also have to FIGHT a stigma that does NOT include all lung cancer patients.

    I work as a nurse and I had a hot headed resident say to me “I can cure 90% of lung cancer – don’t smoke!” …. This is the future of our medical profession???

    60-65% of newly diagnosed lung cancer patients are never or former smokers. That’s what we have to fight for!!!!

    My twin sister was diagnosed with stage 3b non small cell adenocarcinoma at the age of THIRTY. She is a NEVER smoker. I fight for her.

    I pray for a world with out breast cancer but I also pray for a world with out lung cancer!!!!

    Cancer is cancer and it all sux.


    1. Why is this old post getting so much sudden attention? My apologies to the Lung cancer community for this one post, please see the numerous other posts on this blog–and please read response to previous comment. I agree ALL cancers need funding and all lives matter, have addressed this repeatedly.


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