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The Politics of Breast Cancer

by Roberta Altman

Pub Date: April 15th, 1996
ISBN: 0-316-03532-7
Publisher: Little, Brown

 Controlled anger suffuses this thorough scrutiny of the state of breast cancer research, prevention, treatment, and attitudes by an activist and survivor. Altman, a journalist, is now a cancer information specialist at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She has studded her survey with attention-grabbing quotes and statistics and complacency-shattering stories. The reliability of mammograms, the possible impact of hormone replacement therapy on breast cancer risk, the bewildering array of surgical options-- all these and more are considered here. As the title indicates, Altman's context is broadly political: She considers the role of government and manufacturers in the high cost of drugs; the well- established tendency of medical researchers to overlook women's health; the role of income and race in breast cancer incidence and survival rates. Women with specific questions will find that too often, as Altman reports, the answers simply aren't known yet. She argues persuasively that since present methods of treatment--surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, for which she adopts breast surgeon Susan Love's terms ``slash, burn, and poison''--have had little impact on the lifetime survival rates of women with breast cancer, prevention is key. She also warns women about the paternalistic attitudes and insensitivity of some male physicians and problems breast cancer survivors face with medical insurance and job discrimination (one high-level executive was told, ``You will never manage again in this company. You are emotionally and physically incapable''). An appendix includes an extensive resource list and a directory of grassroots organizations, for Altman's aim is twofold: not simply raising the awareness of women that they must take responsibility for their own bodies but persuading them to join in the growing advocacy movement to increase funding for breast cancer research. Altman warns that this book may cause ``some anxiety, discomfort, and fear.'' She's right. It's not for those seeking hope and solace.