A SCAM agenda: cancer and women

After chatting to various people about SCAM (Sceptics’ Cancer Awareness Month) I'm starting to think it may be rather a complex idea. This may be because it is, or it could be because I make it sound complicated, by gabbling away about it with too much arm waving and an excess of sentences beginning with ‘….and another thing….’.

But I’ve decided to provide a bit of information for writers and health editors who are  looking around for a new way of writing about cancer and SCAM might be it. No fundraising, for staters.
I’ve hit upon women’s health and women amd cancer as a suitable worked example of a SCAM approach. SCAM subverts current convention and is anathema to the ‘one tumour at a time, please’ ethos of current Cancer Awareness Months.
This piece will, I hope, rehearse the idea of SCAM thinking - in this case by presenting some simple data on cancer and women as the jumping off point for your creativity.  
The following information is based on a June 2010 Cancer Research UK information sheet that gives UK cases and deaths statistics for men, women and persons by each cancer. Just so you know, statistics on cases  - men and women newly diagnosed with cancer in that year - are more time consuming to collate so always appear later than mortality statistics. Therefore the numbers of cases relate to 2007 and the deaths are from 2008. This is normal, not some typo of mine.
The top five cancers diagnosed in women in 2007 were as follows.
  1. Breast             45,695 women
  2. Colorectal        17,594 women
  3. Lung               17,118 women
  4. Uterus              7,536 women
  5. Ovary               6,719 women
Breast cancer is, as we’d expect, way out in front. However, did you know that colorectal cancer was in second place and lung third or have any grip on the numbers/proportions/comparisons?
The figures shuffle around when you look at the cancers from which women died in 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
  1. Lung               15,393 women
  2. Breast             12,047 women
  3. Colorectal          7,501 women
  4. Ovary               4,373 women
  5. Pancreas           3,974 women
Lung cancer suddenly comes out ahead as the number 1 ranked cancer killer of women. And the number of women who die from lung cancer is pretty similar to the number who are diagnosed. This means lung cancer is rarely survivable, beyond a year. Breast cancer often is, as the numbers show. Not often enough, sure, but lung cancer in women (and men) is awful. Like pancreatic cancer.
The numbers of women who die from colorectal and ovarian cancers equals the number women who die from breast cancer, but come nowhere close in public consciousness even with efforts combined. Women with colorectal cancer may lose out because they don’t have an apparently gender specific cancer (breast cancer seems to be gender specific but about 300 men get it each year) and there’s no possible association of idealised femaleness with a bowel cancer, is there? Though women with ovarian cancer do have a female cancer their cancer is difficult to diagnosis early enough and there’s no effective screening so there’s no straightforward message about it.  And who knows what an ovary looks like anyway? Women don't do well in awareness with any cancer that affects any internal organ or structure which, frankly, is most of them. 
So, I respectfully suggest, very many women with cancer land up on the margins of awareness. But any women, whatever their cancer, or age, is equally deserving of care, attention and awareness.
And who knew pancreatic cancer was in the list at all – the cancer with the grimmest outcomes and shortest survival post diagnosis of any/all cancers?
As women are thought to be effective health campaigners there’s plenty for them to get their teeth into here. Not least, wondering if the ‘affects women only’ message is good for all women, most of whom get the same cancers that men do……
I leave you with another ranking. The ‘all in it together’ cancers, which excludes the gender specific cancers and keeps only the ones where women and men get them. I have excluded breast because it does seem female. However, if you want to add it, it comes out first…. with 45,695.
‘All in it together’ cancers, shared by men and women, ranked by frequency as diagnosed in 2007.
  1. Lung                                       39,473  men and women
  2. Colorectal                                38,608 men and women
  3. Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma           10,917 men and women
  4. Malignant melanoma                 10,672 men and women
  5. Bladder                                   10,091 men and women
  6. Kidney                                     8,228 men and women
  7. Oesophagus                             7,966 men and women
  8. Stomach                                  7,784 men and women
  9. Pancreas                                  7,684 men and women
  10. Leukaemia                               7,001 men and women

So that's another agenda .....