The Hidden Facts of Breast Cancer Campaigns

By Dr. Jennifer Hanes

In honor of the true survivors of breast cancer, I want to clarify some of the lesser known facts about breast cancer.

The term breast cancer is an umbrella diagnosis for an entire spectrum of disorders.  The women who face death and use every available resource to maintain an existence on the planet, are my heroes.  It is for those brave souls I write this.  We all want to be a hero, and thus, many women have been labelled “breast cancer survivor” without ever enduring a mastectomy, lymph node removal, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or even daily medication.  But it is not her fault, we, as doctors have let you down by not speaking the truth.

Every good cause, by definition, has an agenda.  When any organization is attempting to raise “awareness” or money, the more people affected, the more likely they are to receive support.  Herein lies the problem.  The polar opposite of the condition I described above is a diagnosis that is labeled breast cancer, even though it is not a cancer at all.  The diagnosis is Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) and it is a pre-cancer.  These abnormalities are usually detected on a mammogram and removed surgically through a procedure called a lumpectomy, breast surgery in which only a small part of the breast is removed.

After surgery, the body fills the area in with fat so there is no deformity and the patient returns to her normal life.  The shocking statistic is that DCIS represents about twenty percent of all “breast cancers.”  Twenty percent.  That means that rather than 1 out of 8 women being diagnosed with breast cancer, the number is actually 1 out of 10.  Yes, still too high of a number, but falsely inflating it by twenty percent by adding into the fold women with “pre-cancer” is not a good practice.  It is offensive that a woman who has a small lump removed without any physical deformity is considered a “survivor” on par with a women who has lost her breast, her health, her hair and her lunch.  It is akin to comparing the removal of a pre-cancerous mole, with a person given a near death sentence of invasive melanoma.

However, for the patient with DCIS, she is not to blame.  The patient with DCIS is told by doctors and organizations, she is a survivor.  It is the medical community that has done her a disservice.  She then passes that information on to her friends and the myth continues.  It is intoxicating to be lifted up by your friends, coworkers and even strangers when you wear the label of “breast cancer survivor.”  I understand the motivation, but it is not empowering women.   Rather, it is diluting the battle of the real survivor.

If women are truly concerned about breast cancer, we should be having a national discussion on how to reduce your risk.  The World Cancer Research Fund has indicated 38% of breast cancers in the United States are preventable if women limit alcohol consumption, increase activity and maintain a healthy weight.  This is not new information to physicians, but it is to many patients.  Lowering the occurrence by 38% would mean that even including the DCIS diagnosis only 1 out of 13 women would be affected rather than the 1 out of 8.

Even more surprising to most women is taking two baby aspirin a day (162mg), can lower your risk of breast cancer by 40%.  How much you could lower your risk by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and taking two baby aspirins a day?  (However, there are other factors involved so you should definitely speak with your own physician about assessing your personal risk factors.)

Knowledge is power.  Providing women with real education, is what assuages fear and brings genuine appreciation for the heroes in pink.   It is time to acknowledge the truth, the words breast cancer invoke a wide spectrum of conditions.  It is time to undo the misnomer of calling DCIS a cancer, and restore the full honor for those women who are fighting a courageous battle.  It is time to understand there are decisions in your control that can dramatically reduce your risk of this disease.  It is time to honor the women in combat with breast cancer.  It is time to honor them with awareness of the truth.

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A board certified emergency physician, Jennifer Hanes, D.O., discovered that patients have greater success when they understand their bodies.  With that unique philosophy, she founded Empowered Medicine, PLLC, where knowledge is powerful medicine.  She empowers patients with her articles, motivational speeches and private consultations.  You can learn more at www.DrHanes.com