Sunday, 4 November 2012

200 words for cancer

This post was really triggered by the Movember campaign, a mighty movement for raising awareness of, and funds to fight, prostate cancer. See Movember for more details (please note, I'm not responsible for content on external sites). It also produces much office hilarity and some very fine moustaches.

But there are around 200 known cancers, of which prostate and breast are just a part. And whilst all awareness of cancer is good, and all research into cancer is good and brings us closer to kicking its butt for ever, I think the focus on individual cancers can skew things mightily. Bowel cancer is rare in my age group and those medical professionals not familiar with my case assume I have breast cancer. If that's the medical profession's view, what's the layman's view? Never heard of it? Don't want to talk about it? Can't discuss this set of symptoms with anyone because they don't mean anything? After all, people only really get a few types of cancer, don't they? And I don't want to be a bother to anyone when this isn't one of those...

I'm not for a moment suggesting that everyone is terrified into reporting the slightest issue to their GP, causing chaos at the reception desk. What I am suggesting is that it would be good if the big awareness campaigns were broader, covered some of the other cancers that most people hopefully will never experience but should know about.

The adverse publicity this week on the breast cancer screening programme also doesn't help - see the BBC story on the issue. There's no way of knowing which cancers need treating and which don't. By all means tell people that this is the case, but try not to do it in a way that compromises saving lives. Surely informed choice is better than the ostrich approach?

If Eskimo languages can recognise multiple words for "snow", surely we can recognise multiple forms of cancer. And fight them all in the best way, which may not always be the one expected.  But the only way that will happen is if the awareness work becomes more general, less focussed on specific cancers and more on its general blight. Good luck with the 'tache growing, gentlemen, and may those of you sporting extra pink raise lots of money for your cause. Now someone tell me how to make bowel cancer a suitable topic for office conversation...

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree! I wish people knew more than just breast or prostate (though I love all the 'taches in Movember!).