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“Save the boobs”?

January 19, 2013

As a drug that can help prevent breast cancer and reduce the need for women to have surgery is recommended by NICE, I consider the state of ‘breast cancer awareness’ campaigns and the still-prevalent culture that seems to reduce women to ‘sexy’ boobs and nothing else

On message or making a boob of it?

On message or making a boob of it?

Drugs or surgery – if you were at risk of developing breast cancer, what would you prefer?

This week, health regulator the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended that women with a high genetic risk of breast cancer should be given drugs that could dramatically cut their risk of developing the disease.

Tamoxifen or raloxifene are not yet available to women with a ‘breast cancer gene’ (BRAC 1 or 2), which makes them at extremely high risk of getting cancer. At the moment, women in the UK are usually given a choice between hoping they’ll be lucky, or having both breasts removed.

Yet if the new NICE recommendations are approved, Tamoxifen could be available later on this year, cutting breast cancer cases by 20 for every 1,000 women taking the drug.

About 500,000 women and 400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK, making it the country’s most common cancer.

The charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer welcomed the move, calling it “exciting and historic”.

But while there’s no doubt that any drugs that could help prevent cancer and reduce the need for surgery are a fantastic thing, we can’t assume that all women who have make the stark choice to have surgery regret their decision and wish the drugs had been available earlier. Surgery has and could still save lives – and that’s just as valid.

“Of course”, you may say, but this isn’t always so obvious against a wider social context in which supposedly anti-breast cancer campaigns seek to “raise awareness” via straplines such as “Save the Boobs”.

This came from – where else? – a porn website, and it isn’t the first time that companies and charities have used ‘anti-cancer’ taglines that appear to prioritise the need to keep your boobs aesthetically pleasing over actually killing the cancer.

While no-one can deny that any money raised to help breast cancer campaigns is infinitely better than nothing, it seems of little surprise when bloggers decry such advertising slogans as “reducing women to a body part” (for a change! Oh, wait…).  Outspoken feminist vloggers Those Pesky Dames also wasted no time in telling their many followers why such slogans make them really, really angry.

Because when considered alongside a society that still privileges women’s ‘sexiness’ and ‘prettiness’ over their opinions or abilities, that balance between valuing a woman as a person, and valuing her on whether we can “save her boobs” (because hey, everyone loves them, right?), looks troublingly wrong.

As Emma Parlons, a woman who discovered she had the BRAC1 gene and subsequently underwent surgery, told the BBC: “I would still have my operations today in place of having a drug.

I think it’s really exciting that there could be a drug in the future which would lower my risks as much as the surgery did, and has done, but at this moment in time I would have those operations today.

I felt very empowered because I had saved my life.” Exactly, Emma, exactly.

Yes, this blog is a tongue-in-cheek look at boobs and what it’s like to live with them.

But there’s something eerily sinister about a culture that, in the context of a potentially-fatal illness, on the one hand idolises false, enormous tits and on the other hand suggests you’re somehow less of a woman if you don’t have any boobs at all.

What do you think? Is anything that raise money for cancer research a good thing, or are such campaigns spectacularly missing the point? Let us know.

See the original posting of the video from Those Pesky Dames and the comments and discussion underneath it

Go to Breakthrough Breast Cancer

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