It’s Not Breast Cancer

5 Dec


“Pinkwashing” is a term used in cancer circles to describe the brainwashing of the public by certain breast cancer organizations, leading people to believe that breast cancer is the form of cancer that needs the most funding for research and treatment at the detriment of fundraising for research to combat other types of cancer.

Many people do not know that lung cancer is the most deadly form of cancer in the United States in terms of percentage of total cancer deaths, both among male and female patients.  According to the American Cancer Society’s website[1], over 25% of the cancer deaths in the States in 2011 were attributed to lung cancer.

Several other cancers, including kidney cancer[2], are more fatal than breast cancer[3] according to the stage of the disease at diagnosis.  For example, 88% of breast cancer patients survive a Stage I diagnosis, whereas only 81% of Stage I kidney cancer patients survive.  And amongst Stage IV patients like me, 15% of breast cancer patients survive as opposed to 8% of kidney cancer patients.

And survival rates for breast cancer have made dramatic improvements since the 1970s, as opposed to survival rates for other cancers.  For example, overall breast cancer survival rates in women have improved from 75% to 90% between 1975 and 2006, whereas overall survival rates for pancreatic cancer have only increased from 3% to 6% and the rates for lung cancer have only increased from 13% to 16%.[4]

But the public is often poorly informed about cancers other than breast cancer, including kidney cancer – all women are told to perform self-breast exams by their gynecologist, but how many of us are told to check our urine for blood?  Urine in the blood is often the first visible symptom of both kidney and bladder cancer.

In Switzerland, it was a little more understandable that people were confused when I told them that I had kidney cancer – after all, I’m a young woman, and the words for “kidney” and “breast” (rein and sein) rhyme, so it was easy for people to fall prey to their preconceived notions and mishear me.

In the States, though, it was truly frustrating to have people always assume that I was a breast cancer patient.  I remember arriving at the radiology clinic in the hospital for an MRI of the brain and being asked, “Are you here for your mammogram today?”

Even my doctors admitted to me that they were frustrated by the way breast cancer awareness has trampled awareness for other cancers.  They told me that concern for the lack of awareness about other cancers was a topic of conversation at all of their consortiums.

So, no.  Even though I was diagnosed with cancer as a 25-year-old woman, it’s not breast cancer.


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