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Behind the Cover Story

Posted 4/30/2013

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  This is a companion or follow up piece to the blog of Anpril 25th which linked to Peggy Orenstein's marvelous work about screening and mammograms and pink ribbons. Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of reaction to that cover story in the New York Times Magazine. I am on the Board of several professional groups that wish to write letters of dispute with her facts. There are always ways and other ways of looking at the data, but surely her essay is thoughtful and provocative and forces us to examine our assumptions.

  This interview with her is from the Time magazine online blog. Here is the beginning and then a link. If you have not already done so, do go back and read her article.

Behind the Cover Story: Peggy Orenstein on Rethinking Her Stance on Mammograms


I had been thinking about it for a long time, because the article in 1997, where I wrote about how a mammogram saved my life, is one of the very few pieces that I regret writing. My thinking around cancer and the politics of cancer and mammography has changed, and I feel that that piece contributed to the very thing I’m pushing back against now. I’ve written about cancer a little bit over the years, and it’s always emotionally difficult. Still, for a few years running I’ve said to my editor that I really want to do this piece, and she’s agreed, but then I’ve made some self-protective excuse for not doing it. Since I got a diagnosis again last summer, I was forcibly re-immersed in it anyway. Still, even before that I’ve said to friends and even in public talks that I’m not happy that that old piece is out there on the Internet. These issues around breast cancer are so important to me personally and also in terms of women’s health that I felt I had a moral obligation to correct it.

What kind of damage did you think your earlier article did?

I felt it contributed to a few trends that were emerging then but that I saw more strongly over time, like a personal narrative that focuses on early-stage cancer and then recovery, pushing the idea that women get cancer at a very young age more often than they actually do, and overstating the benefits and role of mammography in prognosis. Something I’ve seen with a lot of friends with cancer is that the diagnosis is so shocking and horrible, and you have to become an expert on something very quickly that you never wanted anything to do with.



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