Daily Archives: 17/10/2013

Are we all aware of breast cancer yet?

This is not going to be a very politically correct post. I am fucking sick of being told to be aware of my breasts. You know what? My breasts are fine. You know what’s not fine? The entire rest of my body. I have fibromyalgia.

An image of a woman with words around her describing the symptoms of fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia symptoms

Fibromyalgia (FM or FMS) is characterised by chronic widespread pain and allodynia (a heightened and painful response to pressure).[1] Its exact cause is unknown but is believed to involve psychological, genetic, neurobiological and environmental factors.[2][3][4] Fibromyalgia symptoms are not restricted to pain, leading to the use of the alternative term fibromyalgia syndrome for the condition. Other symptoms include debilitating fatigue,sleep disturbance, and joint stiffness. Some patients[5] also report difficulty with swallowing,[6]bowel and bladder abnormalities,[7]numbness and tingling,[8] and cognitive dysfunction.[9]

Like breast cancer, fibromyalgia is a disease that predominantly affects women, at a female:male ratio of about 9:1. The prevalence of fibromyalgia is 2-4%. And yet, there are no big corporate sponsorships for fibromyalgia research. No celebrities wearing our ribbons. No big events to improve awareness.

Worse than that, there is no cure and no treatment beyond trying to treat the symptoms. People who develop fibromyalgia rarely get better on their own. The chances are high that they will experience the symptoms above for the rest of their lives. Many fibromyalgia patients end up having to leave their careers and are even unable to participate fully in the lives of their family and friends. It can strike you down in the prime of your life, and you’re never able to recover.

“But Silverdrop,” I hear you say. “Breast cancer is far more common than fibromyalgia. Why shouldn’t we spend more resources on trying to cure breast cancer?”

The common figure given for lifetime breast cancer risk in women is 1 in 8… if they live to age 95. (This overlooks that most women will not live to age 95 and will generally succumb to something that is not breast cancer. Most often, that is heart disease.)

Even so, it is true that breast cancer is more prevalent than fibromyalgia. If we look at the 2-4% figure above and split it down the middle, then let’s say 3%, compared to 12.5% for breast cancer. I would be very happy if fibromyalgia received one quarter of the research money that breast cancer receives. Does it?

The NIH spent $800,000,000 on breast cancer research in 2012. In that same year, they spent $13,000,000 on fibromyalgia.*

Let that sink in. Fibromyalgia research received 1.6% of the research dollars that breast cancer received. And let’s consider that this is only government funding. This does not include money donated by corporations or raised by activists, which would make the disparity even greater.

I’m not going to deny that it’s important to do regular self-checks of your breasts, but is there anyone in the developed world who is somehow not aware of this?

Guess what? Women are more than a pair of breasts. There are many, many diseases that disproportionately affect women, either in greater incidence or greater severity, and many of these diseases cause severe disability or death.

Alzheimers. Cardiovascular Disease. Celiac disease. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Endometriosis. Fibromyalgia. HIV and other STIs. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Lung Cancer. Lupus. Major Depression. Migraine. Multiple Sclerosis. Sjogrens Syndrome.  Uterine Fibroids.  

This October, how about spreading awareness beyond your breasts?