Ethics in Medicine

Focus on the Cause AND the Cure

Kristen Sparrow • February 10, 2012

The latest dust up with the Komen foundation exposed the rank partisanship in the organization. But I hope that it will also expose the bias towards finding the “cure” the magic bullet that will take away the horror that is cancer. The Komen foundation partners with business to sell products and raise money. But somehow looking for the possible cause may anger big business. I discussed the media blackout on this topic here. This issue is far from simple, and I don’t want to portray it as such. Here is an excerpt from an article by Susan Love, NYTimes. Info on my practice here.

Real Race in Cancer Is Finding Its Cause

A decision by the nation’s leading breast cancer advocacy group, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to largely cut off financing for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood set off howls of outrage last week. Once again, it seemed, political gamesmanship was jeopardizing women’s health.

The widespread anger forced Komen to reverse its decision, and it has certainly reinvigorated the women’s health movement. But the furor misses an important fact: Women have been led to believe that screening is the best prevention.

In reality, we still do not know what causes breast cancer, which means we really do not know how to prevent it, either. That has pushed us to focus on looking for cancers that are already there, a practice long based on the assumption that all cancers were the same, grew at a similar rate and were visible in the breast for a period of time before spreading. It made sense: If you could find cancers earlier, you could save lives…

We should continue to speak up when we think health care services are in jeopardy, but we cannot be satisfied with the status quo. We must move breast cancer advocacy to the next level, beyond screening for cancers that are already there, even beyond the cure, to finding the cause. That is true prevention.

Dr. Susan Love is president of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation in Santa Monica, Calif.