Missing the Mark: October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Campaigns

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By Elisabeth Dale

breast-cancer-flyer2How do you make decisions regarding your breast health? Do you schedule an appointment to talk to your doctor or keep up with the latest medical research? Would a social media breast cancer awareness campaign guide your actions? This October exposed some new and unusual methods of getting women to focus on their breasts, turning to social media to get their message out. They introduced catchy hashtags, produced humorous and funny videos, and tapped into the viral nature of photo sharing websites.

First up is a “Tweeting Bra,” created by an advertising agency. This unique piece of lingerie, worn by a popular female celebrity, tweets out a breast self-exam reminder each time it’s unhooked. Another Instagram-inspired promotion introduced #Mamming, an exercise where men and women post and share photos of themselves resting their chests on various flat surfaces. Their goal is to bring attention to early detection and “embrace the awkwardness of mammograms.” Finally, Coppafeel’s #brahijack enlists popular bra brands to sew breast check labels into their products. Women are reminded to pay attention to their breasts each time they put on, or take off, their bra.

These new breast cancer awareness campaigns share the following:

All target a youthful audience. User demographics confirm that social media is populated by 18-29 year old men and women. Coppafeel’s breast check labels will soon to be included on Curvy Kate bras, a brand geared to younger, full-busted women. Breast cancer in women under 30 can be more aggressive, but it is still far less common. The two biggest risk factors for the disease are being female and growing older, with an average age at diagnosis of 61 years. Could some of these awareness efforts be reaching out to a younger audience as a way to remind elders to “check their boobies?” That’s a point made on the #Mamming website. Under their “Get Involved” tab, option B (after posting a photo of your flattened chest) urges readers to “[t]alk to the important women in your life about getting a mammogram. Like your mom.”

Sexualize, objectify, or otherwise trivialize (via cute photos or funny videos) women’s bodies. While the best of intentions may be involved, campaigns like the “Twitter Bra” get attention with sexually suggestive photos of unclothed women or cleavage shots. The #Mamming pictures are all fully clothed and their point is to make light of an often painful, uncomfortable, and scary medical procedure. Coppafeel’s brand salutes breasts as sexual foreplay. Some argue that there’s nothing inherently wrong with using this approach to promote a worthy cause. But many, especially those living and dying with breast cancer, are angered and offended by these sexual references, and insensitive tactics.

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Promote specific methods of early cancer detection that may or may not be necessary. Routine mammography screening isn’t recommended for women under 40, and the most recent guidelines suggest women wait until age 50 (unless other risk factors are present). Other researchers point out that women should be made more “aware” of the downside of screening, which includes unnecessary surgery and treatment. Research shows that teaching women to perform monthly breast self-exams doesn’t reduce deaths from breast cancer. No one suggests that women not be breast self-aware or report changes to a physician, just as they would with any other concern. But tests and other exams should be considered in the context of a woman’s entire medical history.

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Fewer women may talk to their doctors about breast cancer risk issues. A recent survey (conducted at mammography centers) found that an astounding 90% of women either over or under-estimate their lifetime risk of breast cancer. When asked, another 40% said they had never discussed breast cancer risk with a physician. That’s seems like a great deal of ignorance for a topic that’s gotten so much attention and “awareness.”

Could all the cause marketing, pink messaging, and breast cancer awareness social media campaigns be missing the mark? Are they doing more harm than good?

What’s your view?

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2 Discussion to this post

  1. Dolores T. says:

    There is solid evidence that mammography is slightly effective at most and certainly causes great harm (read Rolf Hefti’s e-book “The Mammogram Myth: The Independent Investigation Of Mammography The Medical Profession Doesn’t Want You To Know About”). Therefore, “all the cause marketing, pink messaging, and breast cancer awareness social media campaigns” do actively contribute to “doing more harm than good” to the majority of women.

  2. Elisabeth Dale (@TheBreastLife) says:

    Hi Delores. I’m not familiar with Rolf Hefti’s e-book, but this article from the New York Times magazine does a great job of summarizing the downside of mammography and early detection: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/magazine/our-feel-good-war-on-breast-cancer.html

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