What You Need To Know About Feminism And Breast Cancer
Feminism and the breast cancer wars
What You Need To Know About Feminism And Breast Cancer: The breast cancer wars were a series of conflicts between advocates and others about the causes, treatments, and societal responses to breast cancer. Women in the late 1980s and 1990s followed the successful approach used by ACT-UP and other AIDS awareness groups, of staging media-friendly protests to increase political pressure. Prominent women who made the "wrong" choice were publicly excoriated, as when Nancy Reagan chose mastectomy over lumpectomy followed by six weeks of radiation therapy. The abortion–breast cancer hypothesis was formulated when an early study showed a connection between voluntary abortions and the development of breast cancer in premenopausal women, which pitted breast cancer advocates against abortion rights advocates.
Advocates for women's issues have said that breast cancer is special because of its status as a largely female disease, society's response to it is an ongoing indication of the status of women and the existence of sexism. Breast cancer activist Virginia Soffa wrote that "[a]s long as it is not a national priority, the breast cancer epidemic will remain a metaphor for how society treats women". Barbara Ehrenreich writes that, before the feminist movement "medicine was a solid patriarchy," and women with breast cancer were often treated as passive, dependent objects, incapable of making appropriate choices, whose role was to accept whatever treatment was decreed by the physicians and surgeons, who held all of the power. Because of sexism in education, female surgeons were far outnumbered by their male counterparts, and until the 1990s, when Susan Love of the University of California, Los Angeles Breast Center published Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book, the physicians who provided breast cancer treatments were generally men. Love said that some male physicians tended to impose their own values on women, such as recommending mastectomy to older women because, being past the age of child bearing and breastfeeding, they no longer "needed" their breasts. The women's health movement promoted mutual aid, self-help, networking, and an active, informed role in the patient's health care. Since the end of the breast cancer wars, feminists have again objected to the breast cancer culture's treatment of women with breast cancer as little girls who need to be obedient to authority figures, cooperative, pleasant and pretty.
Achievements of the breast cancer movement
Breast cancer has been known to educated women and caregivers throughout history, but modesty and horror at the consequences of a largely untreatable disease made it a taboo subject. The breast cancer movement, which developed in the 1980s and 1990s out of 20th century feminist movements and the women's health movement, has mostly removed those taboos through its modern advocacy and awareness campaigns.
Educated, empowered patients
At the beginning and middle of the 20th century, breast cancer was usually discussed in hushed tones, as if it were shameful. As an example, The New York Times refused to publish an advertisement for a breast cancer support group in the early 1950s, stating that it would not print either the word breast or the word cancer. Later, however, several celebrities publicly disclosed their own health challenges, and the resulting publicity reduced the stigma. One of the first was Shirley Temple Black, the former child star, who announced her diagnosis in 1972. In October 1974, Betty Ford, the wife of the then-President of the United States, openly discussed her breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy. Two weeks later, the wife of the then-Vice President also had a mastectomy for breast cancer. The next year, journalist Rose Kushner published her book, Breast Cancer: A Personal History and Investigative Report, which she had written while recovering from a modified radical mastectomy. More recently, Angelina Jolie has also come forward publicly regarding her experience surrounding her diagnosis and treatment, which managed to raise public awareness of the issue significantly. In one study, when a survey of women was taken following Jolie's announcement, awareness rose by 4% among those women surveyed. The media reported these women's health and their treatment choices, and even invited some to appear on talk shows to discuss breast cancer frankly.
The breast cancer movement has resulted in widespread acceptance of second opinions, the development of less invasive surgical procedures, the spread of support groups, and other advances in patient care. The movement successfully separated diagnostic biopsy from mastectomy surgery; before about 1980, it was common to perform the biopsy and, if a quick review of tissues indicated a probable need, a mastectomy in the same surgery. The one-step surgery prevented women from seeking different opinions about their treatment, and sent them into the surgery without knowing whether their breasts would be removed that day. In response to women's concerns over lymphedema after routine removal of lymph nodes during mastectomy, the more limited approach of sentinel node biopsy was developed. Advocacy efforts also led to the formal recommendation against the routine use of the Halsted radical mastectomy in favor of simple mastectomies and lumpectomies.
The breast cancer movement has supported practical, educational, emotional, and financial care for women with breast cancer. Support groups, individual counseling opportunities, and other resources are made available to patients.
Educational interventions using written material and brief one-to-one interaction about breast checking behaviour, breast cancer symptoms and age-related risk have the potential to increase breast cancer awareness in older women, over a sustained period of time.
Increased resources for treatment and research
Supporting breast cancer was seen as a distinctively pro-woman stance popular among public official. This has resulted in better access to care. For example, in much of the United States, low-income women with breast cancer may qualify for taxpayer-funded health care benefits, such as screening mammography, biopsies, or treatment, while women with the same income, but another form of cancer or a medical condition other than cancer, do not.
Breast cancer advocates have successfully increased the amount of public money being spent on cancer research and shifted the research focus away from other diseases and towards breast cancer. Breast cancer advocates also raise millions of dollars for research into cures each year, although most of the funds they raise is spent on screening programs, education and treatment. Most breast cancer research is funded by government agencies.
The high level of awareness and organized political lobbying has resulted in a disproportionate level of funding and resources given to breast cancer research and care. Favoring breast cancer with disproportionate research may have the unintended consequence of costing lives elsewhere. In 2001 UK MP Ian Gibson said, "The treatment has been skewed by the lobbying, there is no doubt about that. Breast cancer sufferers get better treatment in terms of bed spaces, facilities and doctors and nurses". Read More