Too Much Breast Cancer Awareness May Be Unhealthy

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Have a pink ribbon! It's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you can't be too aware, can you?

Well, maybe you can. Dr. H. Gilbert Welch writes in the Los Angeles Times that he has "had concerns about National Breast Cancer Awareness Month for years." Though his own wife has had breast cancer, he worries about women being "more fearful of breast cancer than they need to be." What women do need to be aware of, he says, is not that scary "'1 in 8' or '1 in 9' statistic," but a few key facts:

First, he says, "if nonsmoking women want to worry about any cancer, breast cancer is the one to worry about." That said, "a woman's chance of dying from breast cancer in the next 10 years is in the range of two per 1,000 (if you are age 40) to 10 per 1,000 (if you are age 75)." In other words? Keep things in perspective. And if you smoke, worry about lung cancer or heart disease instead.

Several of Welch's other points have to do with mammograms. He reminds readers of controversy around screening mammograms, the total lack of controversy regarding diagnostic mammograms, and urging women to remember that, in the case of screening, the choice really is theirs.

In the end, he writes, it's important to remember that health also involves thoughts and feelings. In that respect, then, "too much disease awareness may not be good for your health." He explains:

Health means more than the absence of abnormality. Health is also about how people feel; it's also a state of mind. And it's hard to feel good when things are constantly being found wrong. Pursuing health, ironically, may require that we not pay too much attention to it.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.