Raising Awareness for Cancer

Breast cancer is one type of cancer that seems to get plenty of attention.

Along with this attention, comes education, increased awareness and usually funding. The money that accompanies all of this attention can fund any number of different things, including additional health promotion, as well as research that can help to improve treatment and care for patients who suffer from breast cancer

But why is breast cancer so visible, when there are so many other types of cancer, often more fatal types, that seem to be hidden from the public?

At look at some stats:

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*Data source: Canadian Cancer Statistics 2011

If we were to prioritize awareness campaigns on the basis of mortality, clearly, lung cancer should be receiving heightened attention. Yet, breast cancer seems to saturate awareness campaigns, clearly recognized by the pink ribbon. The branding of breast cancer, has no doubt increased public awareness, which can also help to facilitate earlier detection, decreasing mortality. However, there are those who argue that the use of logos may have the opposite effect, providing only a shallow symbol that fails to recognize the gravity of the disease, nor acknowledge the struggles faced by those who have breast cancer. Erika Lade clearly articulates these issues in an article from the Huffington Post , and also brings up important concerns about corporations capitalizing on “pinkwashing” as a means to look charitable.

Also concerning is how this preference for supporting breast cancer might be affecting those who suffer from other types of cancer, who may end up feeling “slighted” that they receive little to no attention. For example, this blog post presents the views of a non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor who reflects that during breast cancer awareness month

Pinktober can feel awfully lonely for those of us who don’t merit the pink ribbon.                                                              And yet we’re the vast majority of people who’ve been impacted by cancer.”

In more recent years, there has been a push to raise awareness for other cancers.

Notably, the annual Movember campaign has become a highly visible strategy for promoting awareness for men’s cancers, while also raising funds.  Other efforts have included marketing of products that also aim to raise awareness, such as these Christmas ornaments, that draw attention to testicular cancer, and aim to encourage men to self-check for suspicious lumps

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Recognizing the discomfort that most people have in discussing colorectal cancer,  recent campaigns have focused on using playful slogans, and phrases to encourage people to feel more at ease, while also raising awareness. For example, Savebutts.ca is a website hosted by the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada used to raise funds, educate, and increase awareness about colorectal cancer, while coloncancercanada.ca displays the slogan “we’re behind your behind”. Moreover, the latest screening campaign by the Center for Disease Control has launched several public service announcements that include celebrities to help increase the visibility and familiarity of colorectal cancer.

While these efforts play an important role in raising awareness for cancer, it is vital that we also continue to provide information and education. During my time working at Princess Margaret Hospital, I remember having a conversation with a mother of a 16-year-old male patient who had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. Not only was she angry about the lack of public awareness for testicular cancer, she was disappointed that their family doctor had never discussed the importance of self-exam with her son. Instead, extreme pain had prompted her son to visit the doctor, only to find that his cancer was already in advanced stages. Inevitably, she was frustrated that her son had never been informed about testicular cancer by their family physician, nor told about the importance of regular self-checks. Clearly, there is a need to focus on combined strategies. Only once people know about the steps they can take to avoid developing cancer, and the signs and symptoms that can help lead to early detection, can we begin to maximize cancer prevention and treatment.

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