Advertisement
Icon WebMD Expert Blogs

Cancer Realities

From diagnosis and treatment to remission and survival

Important:

The opinions expressed in WebMD User-generated content areas like communities, review, ratings, or blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have... Expand

The opinions expressed in WebMD User-generated content areas like communities, reviews, ratings, or blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. User-generated content areas are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD User-generated content as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Hide

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Got Cancer? Here Come the Marketers!

By Heather Millar

Marketing

This is only my third October as a member of the “breast cancer community” and I’m already tired. I’m not sure how I’m going to face year after year of Breast Cancer Awareness Month marketing. Last week, I was away on a press trip to a wine region and was poured a glass of pink wine (white Zinfandel). “This is our pink ribbon vintage,” the server proudly announced.

Really? Breast cancer wine? Had no one informed the winemaker of the large amount of evidence that alcohol consumption increases breast cancer risk? Surely that must be some sort of marketing snafu. Yet I love wine. So I have decided in favor of moderation over abstinence. The white Zin was good. But still.

It’s exhausting to realize that your cancer diagnosis makes you forever a marketing opportunity.

I was reminded of this by a couple stories made the headlines while I was away:

First, many major news outlets carried a story saying that taking the  Centrum Silver multivitamin reduces a man’s risk of cancer, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Many stories trumpeted the language from the news release, that the 11-year study of nearly 15,000 men found that taking the vitamins reduced cancer risk by 8 percent.

Sounds pretty amazing, right? And the day after the study was released, Pfizer, the owner of the Centrum brand, took out full-page ads trumpeting that their multivitamins are “Most doctor recommended; Most preferred; Most studied.” This led some journalists to worry that they hadn’t covered the story critically enough.

So let’s unpack that number. Excellent coverage by the Associated Press explained it this way: For every 1,000 men per year in the study, there were 17 cancers among multivitamin users, and 18 cancers among those who took placebos (i.e. sugar pills). That’s not nothing, but it sounds a little less impressive that “8 percent reduction!” doesn’t it?

I’m all for vitamins, and I take them. But I think we’ve got a long way to go before we can say that they prevent cancer.

Also last week, there was a bit of excitement over a sillier story: Supposedly, a “futuristic sports bra” can detect early signs of breast cancer. The bra, which has yet to be proven and is not close to being on the market, has microwave antennae woven into the fabric. Based on the idea of “thermography,” these sensors allegedly can detect slight temperature changes that might indicate increased blood flow to the beginnings of a tumor.

Bring on the future! I’d much rather wear a sports bra than have my breasts squished in a mammogram machine. And what harried news editor could resist a story about a cancer-finding bra?

But wait a minute, an excellent analysis at Health News Review, an organization that fact-checks medical news, finds remarkably few details about the studies that supposedly back up this new invention. Almost none of the media hype quoted people in the breast cancer field. And the Food and Drug Administration has found that thermography is not an adequate substitute for mammography.

So I guess I won’t be cancelling that mammogram appointment after all.

New ideas and marketing are part of the necessary hurly-burly of a capitalist society. Just don’t pin your hopes on the latest hype. Look for science published in peer-reviewed journals that backs up marketing claims. Don’t believe every statistic and every glowing advertisement.

We cancer patients may be tired of being marketing targets, but we have to keep our wits about us. I would hate to think that any woman would cancel her mammogram because of a sports bra. Until there’s better evidence, that’s a dangerous idea.

What do you think? Have you come across anti-cancer claims that are misleading? Let me know.

Photo: Hemera

Posted by: Heather Millar at 1:00 am

Comments

Leave a comment

Subscribe & Stay Informed

Cancer

Sign up for the Cancer newsletter and keep up with all the latest news, treatments, and research with WebMD.

Archives

WebMD Health News