I Wish I Had Breast Cancer – Really?

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This week Pancreatic Cancer Action released their new ad campaign aiming to promote awareness of pancreatic cancer.

Unfortunately, they chose to raise awareness with a video and adverts in the media accompanied by ‘I wish I had breast cancer’ and ‘I wish I had testicular cancer’ slogans. This has rightly caused considerable outrage amongst sufferers of both those diseases, who have repeatedly made the point across social media, in press comments sections and in complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency that any campaign attempting to gain publicity for its cause by seeming to diminish the seriousness of other cancers is both way off the mark, and also way out of line.

The charity’s founder, Ali Stunt, who was herself diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007, has defended the ad. She claims it is not an attempt to belittle other cancers, even though it clearly seems to be doing just that, and in this blog (http://pancreaticcanceraction.org/community/blog/i-wish-i-had/) has cited breast cancer survival rates as 85%.

This is a misleading statistic. Cancer Research UK, one of the leading charities conducting research into all cancers, measures the survival rates by stages, something the Pancreatic Cancer Ad seems to have ignored.

For instance, the survival rate for stage one breast cancer is 85% at ten years. For stage two it is 60% at ten years. For stage three (like mine) it is 40% at ten years. For stage four – there is no survival rate. These figures seem to have been glossed over by Pancreatic Cancer Action in favour of using the most optimistic statistic to sensationalise their claims for the lack of funding into pancreatic cancer compared to other cancers. 

There is a reason breast cancer is well funded. That is partly because it the most common cancer:

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But it is also down to the high profile of breast cancer awareness, most notably with the pink ribbon – which is now a brand in itself – and the thousands of other charities and campaigns that exist to raise awareness of the disease and push for funding into research. You only have to look at the chart above to realise why breast cancer quite rightly gets a large percentage of the research budget. Consider how many people are affected by it, and not just them, but their families and friends. Every time Feel Yourself Campaign has a stall at an event we are repeatedly approached by either survivors or by families who have lost loved ones to the disease. With one in five women under 50 now being diagnosed with breast cancer, and a lifetime risk factor of one in eight, it really is a disease where everyone knows someone who has been affected. 

Another fundamental consideration this campaign seems to have ignored is that both breast and testicular cancer can be found early enough to treat effectively, which contributes to the higher survival rates. 80% of breast cancers are found by the patient, either in routine self exams or in the day to day business of showering/dressing etc. The infinite internet doesn’t seem to have a figure for how many men discover their own testicular cancer, but I’m guessing it’s quite a high rate, probably even higher than breast cancer. According to Pancreatic Cancer Action’s own website, pancreatic cancer is known as the silent killer, with symptoms ranging from abdominal or back pain, yellow jaundiced eyes, and significant and unexplained weight loss. Breast and testicular cancer receive a lot of attention because they can be successfully treated if found early, so teaching people what to look for and making them aware of the risks is vital.

Something else the ad campaign totally ignores is that research into both breast and testicular cancer has helped other cancers, including pancreatic cancer. Abraxane, used to treat metastatic breast cancer, is being trialled in the treatment of other cancers. Bleomycin, used to treat testicular cancer, is also now used for lymphoma, cervical cancer and cancers of the head and neck. Capecitabine is used to treat breast, colon, rectal, stomach and oesophageal cancers. Cisplatin is used to treat testicular, ovarian, bladder, and head and neck cancers. I could go on, but you get the point. Research into treatments for one cancer can, and invariably do, help another type of cancer. 

Which is another reason why, when you get down the bottom of it, Pancreatic Cancer Action’s campaign is so offensive. As the charity is repeatedly stating that they meant no offence to people who have been affected by breast and testicular cancer, one can only assume that they have launched this campaign with the sole intention of creating shock and then gaining publicity through the ensuing media storm. They are probably thrilled with the response they’ve had this week. I know I would be if I could get this much interest in Feel Yourself Campaign. 

However, I’m not prepared to stoop so low as to attempt to belittle the effects of another cancer in order to promote awareness for breast and testicular cancer. All cancer is horrific, for the patient and for their loved ones. All cancer treatments are unpleasant. Anyone, no matter what their cancer type, will be devastated with a terminal diagnosis. By all means raise awareness for pancreatic cancer. As with all other cancers, research into it is woefully underfunded and governments are further withdrawing science budgets so they can spend the money on pointless things, like Michael Gove’s salary. But please don’t raise awareness for it by using slogans saying ‘I wish I had breast cancer’ or ‘I wish I had testicular cancer’. No matter what Pancreatic Cancer Action’s intention may have originally been, the inescapable fact is that it will upset people affected by those diseases. Cancer isn’t a competition. Just because one has a better outcome than another doesn’t make it preferable, and attempting to capitalise on the misery and pain of millions of breast and testicular cancer sufferers in order to raise the profile of pancreatic cancer is inexcusable.