Thursday, January 27, 2011

The problem with breasts

(That's not a headline I ever imagined writing.)

Breast cancer awareness-raising has been brilliant. Every female this side of Venus knows all about it (and most blokes this side of Mars). It is estimated that screening saves about 1,000 lives a year.

High fives all round? Not exactly. A lot of women have become the worried well. Breast cancer remains rare among young women - 4 in every 5 breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged 50 and over. But you wouldn't know that from the media coverage or to hear some folk talk about the disease. It is one of women's major health fears despite the fact that 96% of them will die of something else - heart disease or another cancer probably. (A 2005 survey in the USA found it was the biggest fear of all: Women's Health Fears Often Don't Line Up With Reality)

Inspired by this, some campaigners have tried to get the prostate to do for men's health what the breast did for women's. Instead of pix of pouting beauties cue images of handsome hunks. This has been pretty successful - look at the excellent Movember. But is there a danger of men's health being seen as all about the bits just as women's health now is? Both are partial and dangerous pictures. Smoking is the biggest killer whether you've nice boobs, a cute prostate, neither or both.

Chris Hiley, a woman who used to work for the Prostate Cancer Charity, understands these issues better than most. In her blog Breasts are a poor vehicle for women’s health: might men’s health now turn to bollocks, too? she puts her finger on the problem.

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