Ask the average woman in New Zealand what the leading cause of death among women is and it is likely they will say breast cancer. Given the amount of coverage and exposure this malady receives it is no surprise, what is surprising is that our fictitious average woman would be wrong. The leading cause of death among women is heart disease. Of the 14,435 women who died in 2004, 25% or 3,620 died from heart disease. Only 4.5% of those deaths were due to breast cancer. Why is it that one of these diseases is given a seemingly disproportionate piece of the publicity pie? I think it is because in Breast Cancer (big B big C) we have a definite enemy, those evil cancer cells. They can attack without warning, our only obligation is keeping watch for them. Whereas heart disease, while it may have better understood causes (to my mind) they are rooted in fuzzy things like “lifestyle” and “healthy living”.
This makes it easier to see Breast Cancer as something we can fight, a cause to get behind while the other factors such as heart disease become almost unseen. This is not a count against those who want to spread awareness of breast cancer or other forms of cancer, these are worthy goals. However it is somewhat disturbing that women are, through the pressure of the media, becoming ignorant of what the real risks are especially as they can do something to mitigate them.
So support Breast Cancer awareness, make a donation it’s a good cause but while you do also think about a body part a little deeper. If you would like more information on Heart Disease in women go to http://www.goredforwomen.org.nz/ .
Mortality and Demographic Data 2004