For some, the color pink is just plain terrifying.
That’s especially true in October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month. During this month, advocacy groups raise lots of money for vital cancer research and honor patients and survivors.
But this awareness campaign also comes with a side effect: It needlessly raises alarm among some young women.
One of the most important risk factors for breast cancer is age, but this message is being lost. Most magazine articles profile young breast cancer patients, and only 14 percent of articles mention that risks increase as women grow older, according to a study by the University of Washington.
Consequently, many women, especially young women, overestimate their risk of breast cancer.
“One of the real problems with breast cancer is how scared women are,” said Dr. Suzanne Fletcher, adjunct professor in the School of Medicine and former chairwoman of the National Cancer Institute International Workshop on Screening for Breast Cancer.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says that breast self-exams can be unnecessary, even though many awareness campaigns continue to recommend them. Thus, increased awareness could be causing worry about breast cancer without improving the health of younger women.
While this seems counterintuitive, let’s use a straight-laced college student as an analogy. To prevent this honor student from being corrupted, her parents call every weekend to monitor her. When they hear that she’s at a party, they rush to Chapel Hill, burst in, and drag her out.
Parents resist such extreme actions because they know that most college kids face risks but turn out fine. So what would be the point of calling on Saturday nights if it’s just going to worry them?