The Science, Culture and History of Breast Cancer in America
By Kate Pickert
In a perfect world, all patients would have the information they need to make informed choices. In such a world, the virtuoso violinist with colon cancer could avoid a chemotherapy regimen that renders fingers insensate; the newly married man with prostate cancer could forgo surgery that might affect his erectile function; and the triathlete with breast cancer could decline chemotherapy that might result in heart failure.
In short, patients would have the information they need to make informed choices.
But our world is far from perfect — especially, as Kate Pickert reveals in “Radical,” for the more than three million Americans who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Pickert, a journalism professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a former health care reporter for Time magazine, was diagnosed with a particularly grim form of breast cancer at the age of 35. Soon thereafter, she set out to write a cultural and scientific history of the disease, using narratives of her own experience to anchor her research. Such a whopping undertaking could have easily turned maudlin, strident or just plain eye-glazing; instead, Pickert has produced an evenhanded, powerful and unflinching page-turner.
“Breast cancer is emotional,” Pickert writes. And then she reveals how physicians, pharmaceutical companies and even patient advocacy groups have tapped into those emotions to prevent patients from making informed decisions about screening and treatment. She describes the role of Susan G. Komen, the biggest breast cancer charity organization in the United States, in transforming mammograms into an annual ritual for women over 40. With a relentless marketing campaign that helped make cheerful pink ribbons synonymous with a deadly disease, the Komen organization pushed the idea that mammograms were necessary for early detection and early detection was necessary for cure. These efforts persisted even after research proved that mammograms were far from foolproof, especially in younger women where identifying cancers in mammograms was akin to “looking for a golf ball in a snowstorm.”
This content was originally published here.