We live today in an environment with a very high level of focus on cancer awareness — particularly for breast, prostate, and skin cancers, but also for other forms of cancer like lung cancer and colon cancer. But do we really appreciate some of the consequences of all this “awareness”?
Yesterday, according to a report on MedPage Today, at the annual Breast Cancer Symposium of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO), Weiss et al. reported data from a survey of > 3,000 girls from urban areas across America. The study concluded that nearly a third of urban teenagers and young girls are afraid of breast cancer.
The MedPage Today report states that “fear of breast cancer starts early, as girls see it affect those close to them and hear reports in the media.” The researchers found that nearly a third of teens and ‘tweens’ have “already worried about whether the disease will strike them personally.’”Furthermore, among urban girls of 8 to 18 years of age, “more than 23 percent believed that infection, drug use, stress, and tanning cause breast cancer.”
The researchers commented on two reasons for this level of fear among girls and teenages:
- 31 percent of the girls reported that someone close to them had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
- The girls appeared to be at risk for “misinterpretation of reports in the media designed to warn adult women about their breast cancer risk.”
We have become very good at publicizing prostate cancer risk. However, what we tend to forget is that we are communicating with a much wider audience than our primary target of men aged 40 to 65 years of age who need to be highly conscious of that risk. We are also communicating with their sons, their daughters, and their wives.
The last thing that we need to do is make boys and young men scared of prostate cancer. Scared men will avoid the tests they may need to manage their personal risk or may come to insist (even more than the current generation) on unnecessary and aggressive treatments for low-risk and indolent disease! A scared man is not an “aware” man. He is someone who has been misled about his real clinical risk.