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Media and Communication at
Muhlenberg College
Lee National Denim Day

  • Advertisements connect breast cancer to stereotypical aspects of femininity like appearance, beauty, diet and exercise. Students connect to previous research (Signorielli, 1990), which questions why breast cancer is portrayed as a threat to femininity (e.g. appearance, family and romance) rather than as a mechanical and organic failure that has life threatening consequences. Similarly, feature articles do not discuss serious side effects from breast cancer; hair loss, sexual drive, and yellowed skin are predominantly mentioned, further emphasizing the magazines' emphasis on appearance and beauty.

  • Editorial content tends to frame breast cancer as an acute disease with a genetic risk factor, rather than a chronic disease with risk factors like alcohol, tobacco, oral contraceptives--the very foundation of the advertising revenue for the magazines. For instance, one vignette emphasized family history of breast cancer, but did not discuss that risk is increased for those women with a genetic first-degree association (e.g., mother or sibling). No other risks are mentioned, including social structural inequities, environmental causations or lifestyle determinants. It is important to note that genetic risk factors (family history or BRCA) account for only 5-to 10% of all breast cancer diagnoses.

  • Research suggests that older women are more frequently diagnosed with breast cancer, with the mean age being sixty-years old. An article in Effective Clinical Practice found that the mean age of women diagnosed with breast cancer in magazine vignettes was 41, indicating an overrepresentation of early breast cancer. Our examination of magazines revealed that magazine feature articles are currently doing a good job informing readers "breast cancer is not an epidemic among young women," (e.g., Glamour).

  • There is an unquestioned assumption in some media coverage that conventional medical treatment is the only appropriate reaction to a diagnosis of breast cancer. There is rarely a mention of nonallopathic treatments. For instance, Vogue describes the diagnosis and treatment of Eli Selden, then 43, a busy mother of three and Hollywood talent manager. The article mentions how Selden read the New England Journal of Medicine for information on breast cancer, which represents the biomedical perspective on the body. It also highlights advances in technology in the last 25 years pertaining to breast cancer treatments, further emphasizing the importance of technology (artificial, man-made remedies) versus natural ones (organic foods, megavitamins, herbal tonics, meditation, etc).