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Awareness Not Prevention?

28 October, 2010 (13:34) | Sports


Nick Mangold of the New York Jets sports pink shoes for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Photo by Ed Yourdon.

Every Sunday for the last few weeks, football fans have been assaulted by a plethora of pink. Shoes, arm bands, gloves, and other accessories, not to mention dozens of shirts, hats and flags in the stands, make it completely clear that it is, once again, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Each sport seems to have it’s glut of pink gear for breast cancer awareness. Major League Baseball has events on Mother’s Day and during the All-Star break. Marshall University sold pink jerseys in April. Shorter University had a week in February dedicated to the cause (I wasn’t even aware baseball went that early). Even a high school flag football team wore pink. Sports everywhere seem to be getting in on the act.

As much as this may be a good cause, all this pomp and regalia have caused some serious disillusionment in me, and I’m not alone.

One of my friends has commented on multiple occasions that Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all the related fanfare are concerned with early detection and treatment. Nowhere do you hear anyone mention the causes of breast cancer or anything dealing with preventing it before it crops up. Risk factors, screenings, and detection are trumpeted and the studies searching for causes and cures remain largely hidden or unmentioned.

The American Cancer Society states: “Certain changes in DNA can cause normal breast cells to become cancer… So far, the causes of most of the DNA mutations that could lead to breast cancer are not known.” On the one hand, this lack of understanding means that there’s currently no better solution than to screen and try and catch cancer early. The Mayo Clinic’s list of risk factors are broad and inconclusive. In this day, who doesn’t have a family member who has suffered from one form of cancer or another (besides the Christian Scientists, of course)?

The Dana Farber Cancer Institute, which has close ties with the Red Sox through the Jimmy Fund, clearly states that one of its primary missions is finding a cure. Susan G. Koman for the Cure, the organization most closely tied to the outpouring of support from professional leagues, also claims to be aimed at finding a cure, and their list of corporate sponsors is staggering and overwhelming. Despite these claims, the advertisements financed by both of these groups seem more concerned with prevention and treatment. This has only fueled the myriad conspiracy theories claiming that a cancer cure is be suppressed.

When I was 14, my grandmother died of breast cancer. The following year, I wrote a paper for the Dupont Challenge entitled “The Evolution of Infectious Disease” exploring the way in which cellular and viral disease adjusts to treatment. While that hardly makes me an expert, one fact that I couldn’t avoid in my research was that both malignant and benign cancers are so varied, and so naturally occurring, that finding a singular cause or catch-all “cure” is likely a pipe-dream.

Conspiracy theorists can claim what they want, but a basic understanding of cellular biology makes it clear that mutations, whether caused by Erin Brockovich style environmental factors such as power lines, or naturally occurring Darwinian evolution, are unpredictable, widely varied and often unpreventable. Even the common names of cancers (lymphoma, breast cancer, etc) refer more to the portion of the body they’re affecting than to the mutations themselves.

As disillusioned with the money and advertisements for breast cancer as I may be, it really does seem to be the best and possibly sole solution to a difficult issue.

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