[2007-12-31] Save the boobies
So I have this wishes-to-remain-anonymous friend, whose parents are both MDs, who has to bite her tongue whenever breast cancer awareness programs, like Race for the Cure, come up in conversation. On the one hand, she, like any sane person, acknowledges that such programs have done a world of good in enhancing awareness, prevention, treatment, research, and survival rates for breast cancer patients. On the other, she is intimately familiar with statistics like these (from a table reproduced in one of Ed Tufte's books), which place breast cancer near the top of the list when it comes to survivability, and also like these, which identify it as the best-funded cancer in terms of total research dollars. While neither she nor I would go so far as to decry the good things all that money has done, the question as to why we dedicate so many resources to a relatively innocuous cancer while real death sentences like pancreatic and bile duct cancers go largely unfunded is a good one.
My friend's answer to that question, and I think it's a good one, is this: Because we, as a nation, love boobies.
In other words, the disproportionate amount of attention we give to breast cancer is at least in part due to our collective fascination with breasts as secondary sexual characteristics. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No. Is it kinda funny? Well, yeah, I think it is, in an irreverant iconoclastic sort of way, but probably not so much if you find yourself dying from one of the unsexier and hence underfunded cancers. "You won't catch me wearing a pink bracelet for breast cancer awareness," my friend says, "but if you gave me a brown bracelet for colon cancer awareness, I'd wear that."