Breast cancer is a terrifying prospect. You never want it to happen to you, or anyone you love for that matter. While the scientific community is making excellent strides towards controlling and treating cancer, it’s on us as women (and men!) to frequently perform breast examinations on ourselves. That being said, you need to know that signs of breast cancer come in more forms than just a lump.
That’s why this Facebook post that’s going viral is so important. Erin Smith Chieze posted the photo on Facebook after seeing a campaign to post “little red hearts” to raise breast cancer awareness.
“In December of 2015 when I saw an indentation that looked like one of those pictures, I instantly knew I had breast cancer,” Erin wrote in her post. “I tried to feel for a tumor, but my tumor was non palpable. I was diagnosed with breast cancer 5 days later and with stage 4 the following month.
A heart did nothing for awareness. I knew what breast cancer was. I knew all about self exams, but a picture of what to look for keyed me into knowing I had a terminal disease.”
Frustrated by the apparent uselessness of the red hearts on Facebook, Erin continued: “We need to give REAL information, not cute hearts. Without having seen a picture randomly with real information, I wouldn’t have known what to look for.
Do us a favor, stop playing games with my life and start truly helping people. Metastatic breast cancer treatment research and real awareness,” she wrote.
The image of the lemons was created by the Know Your Lemons campaign, organized by the Worldwide Breast Cancer organization (Note: At time of publication, the site appears to be down, perhaps do to the immense popularity of the viral photo). It’s an all-encompassing graphic that both men and women should use for self-exams.
This information is especially useful in the face of new research that mammograms might not be the most effective way to screen for potential cancer. In fact, a recent study from Denmark showed that one third of women diagnosed with breast cancer through mammograms either had slow-growing tumors that didn’t need immediate treatment” or non-malignant cancer.
On top of that, a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine wrote that regular mammograms do not catch more advanced cancers.
“Breast cancer screening was not associated with a reduction in the incidence of advanced cancer,” Dr. Karsten Juhl Jørgensen of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen and colleagues wrote in the study.
Whereas mammograms were once considered the pinnacle of cancer prevention, doubt has been cast upon them for several years now. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012, almost a third of cancers that routine mammograms can detect may not be life-threatening.
In an interview with NBC News, Dr. Otis Brawley, medical officer at the American Cancer Society, explained that conventional wisdom needs to catch up with the latest research. Mammograms don’t save lives because they’re catching dangerous tumors before they spread, Dr. Brawley said.
“Some of those pea-sized lesions are not going to kill. Some of those pea-sized lesions are going to regress over time,” Brawley told NBC. “We are curing people that don’t need curing.”
It’s not that mammograms aren’t important when it comes to breast health—they absolutely are. It just means that doctors and technicians need to be more aware of the recently discovered shortcomings of mammograms.
“It is only by learning the limitations of mammography screening that we can learn how to apply it and save lives. That is not an argument against mammography screening,” Dr. Brawley said.
Instead, we need better genetic testing that will help doctors differentiate between dangerous tumors and benign ones. And we need people to be better informed about the subtleties of potentially cancerous growths—hence Erin Smith Chieze’s impassioned post.
“PLEASE, stop playing games that do not actually promote awareness, they often cause people to tune out anything that might even mention the word awareness,” Erin wrote. “So if you truly want to help people WITH cancer, or those who will GET cancer, share photos like this one.”