October 23, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

The worst thing I’ve read all year: @Slate piece on prostate cancer

cancer mythI’ve read a lot of bad writing in the past year including on prostate cancer. Lucky me, right? It’s probably true for most of us.

However, a new piece in Slate on prostate cancer and the Movember movement (an effort that raises awareness and funds for prostate cancer research) takes the cake as the absolute worst thing that I’ve read in all of 2015.

As many of you are aware, I’m a prostate cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with a serious form of the disease almost exactly 6 years ago at the age of 42. You can read more on my experiences here.

I’m doing OK now so far, but for hundreds of thousands of patients prostate cancer is a devastatingly tough illness. The cancer as well as the treatment were together the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. So admittedly I’m probably more sensitive to discussions of prostate cancer than the average person, but the Slate piece is an utter train wreck by any account.

Authors Jacob Brogan and Christina Cauterucci did the piece as a chatty conversation between the two. It comes off like a transcript of an idiotic YouTube video.

The authors seem obsessively focused on the sexual and gender implications of Movember, again a movement primarily focused on raising awareness about prostate cancer and funds for research. In fact, the authors themselves hypersexualize the issue in how they discuss it. I’m not here to defend everything associated with Movember and there may well be legitimate issues here, but this Slate piece is an epic fail. The authors didn’t do their homework on prostate cancer. They showed an extreme disregard for prostate cancer patients and their families too.

The Slate piece goes from bad to disaster as one reads myths presented as fact and witnesses persistent trivialization of prostate cancer. Take this passage:

Jacob: What’s more, while prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death by cancer in men, Siddhartha Mukherjee writes in The Emperor of All Maladies that more elderly men die with it than die of it. I wouldn’t want to minimize the damage—both emotional and physical—that prostate cancer can cause, but I also think it’s important not to scare people by overstating their risks. And that’s exactly what I think is happening here.

Okay, so according to Slate supposedly while prostate cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer death for men, since most men who die of it (or with it) are “old” let’s not make a fuss about it? Let’s not “scare” people through increased awareness via educational outreach?

That’s illogical to put it kindly. Seems like a massive case of ageism too. The authors further missed an opportunity to discuss the real, key issue of PSA testing and how that should be reformed to hopefully do more good than harm.

Then Christina comes in with a real humdinger of her own, “and besides, everybody already knows about prostate cancer.”

That’s actually a harmful myth.

Prostate cancer is not on the radar screens of people the way that other cancers are and there is a huge need for further education and awareness. While campaigns for awareness and research funding for other cancers have done a very effective job, the same sadly cannot be said about prostate cancer by any stretch of the imagination. In short, Movember for all its potential imperfections has done and continues to do valuable, unique things.

Next Jacob chimes in by criticizing Movember for raising awareness about mental health issues related to prostate cancer. What the heck? How could that possibly be a bad thing?

He then astonishingly goes on to question whether prostate cancer research even merits funding. Apparently, it’s just not quite bad enough and after all it is a “manly” disease:

Jacob: And it’s not entirely clear how meaningful that charity has been. Over the years, the Movember Foundation has raised a lot of money, and that’s great. But because of its focus on ostensibly masculine afflictions, those funds aren’t always going where they’re needed most. They’ve dedicated tens of millions of dollars to prostate cancer research, and though charity isn’t a zero-sum game, it’s hard not to wonder whether those funds might have done more good if they’d gone toward a less manly but more deadly ailment—like lung cancer.

So Jacob turns raising millions of dollars for prostate cancer research into a bad thing because, heck, that money would be better served studying some other cancer like lung cancer?

I wonder: what does whether something is “manly” have to do with cancer research funding decisions?

No campaign is perfect and I’m sure Movember has its own share of flaws, but these authors do such a profoundly lame job on this Slate article.

Note that I have no affiliation with Movember and have never even participated in it myself.

The icing on the cake is that these authors act all annoyed because Movember apparently takes place in their birth month of November, saying “And why did they have to corrupt our birthday month?”

Is this supposed to be some kind of pathetic attempt at humor? And talk about an astounding level of self-centeredness by these authors.

We are talking about a disease that in the US alone is newly diagnosed in almost a quarter of a million men each year and claims the lives of about 30,000 annually. There are huge negative impacts and suffering for decades for millions of American men living with the disease and their families, who also suffer collateral damage from the disease in many cases.

There’s a staggering level of ignorance and childishness here by the Slate authors overall.

%d bloggers like this: