What I saw at the gym

I don’t usually see daytime TV, but it was on at the gym when I was there this morning, and I caught some of the ITV “Breastmates” campaign (= team up with friends and remind each other to do breast checks). I was dismayed.

Of course we should do self-examinations – can’t argue with that. But this is a facile campaign. Firstly, I take issue with the silly visual images they kept showing of anything that is round and can come in pairs – melons, towel hooks, cupcakes – superimposed cheekily (as the programme makers think) on womens’ bodies.

Breast cancer is not a joke. Breasts are not objects of fun for public consumption. I can’t tell you how insensitive and inappropriate this succession of images seems to me, as a women who has had a mastectomy. Why don’t they show a woman with just one melon or cupcake? Or with a slashed or lopsided melon/cupcake on one or both sides? Because it would be less fun and look less good, that’s why. Because it would remind everybody what treatment  for breast cancer (even early breast cancer, remember) actually entails.

More importantly, I take issue with the oversimplified message being conveyed. It may seem logical, but to say that finding and treating breast cancer early is always the best course of action is simply not true. It is way, way more complicated than that —-



  1. For the record, breast self-examination has not been shown to lengthen life. The Nordic Cochrane Centre reviewed available evidence in 2008 and it did not support recommending that women examine their breasts since doing so did not reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer. The report is here http://nordic.cochrane.org/sites/nordic.cochrane.org/files/uploads/ResearchHighlights/Regular%20self-examination%2C%20CD003373.pdf
    Not showing any effect on mortality does not mean there isn’t one too small to show in the statistics, but it may mean there isn’t one, and it does mean there isn’t sufficient evidence of one, and that means that the intervention cannot be seriously recommended: “There is insufficient evidence of benefit, there is evidence of harm, but do it anyway”. People can do what they want, but in the case of breast self-examination, it would be based on hope, not on evidence of benefit, and the personal costs have to be taken into account.

  2. Pingback: The next generation takes up the baton « One Lump or Two

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