I sent this to the NewYork Times Magazine today, in response to Peggy Orenstein’s “Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer,” published last Sunday, April 28. 2013).
Women with triple-negative breast cancer throughout the country groaned when they saw Peggy Orenstein’s blithe mischaracterization of this type of breast cancer. She uses the typical shorthand terms “aggressive” and “lethal” to define TNBC, a complex set of diseases that, in many cases, are no more aggressive than other forms of breast cancer. And TNBC is seldom lethal. Non-metastatic TNBC has an impressive survival rate—as high as 87 percent in some studies. And Her2-positive can be more aggressive than TNBC, as can some forms of hormone-positive breast cancer.
Likewise, triple-negative is not synonymous with basal-like. There is a strong association between the two, but not all TNBC tumors are basal-like and not all basal-like tumors are triple-negative.
All breast cancers can be aggressive and all can be lethal, but no one type is automatically both. Writers who use such fearful language ignore the psychological impact of their words on women who are already terrified and confused. The fact is that the great majority of women with TNBC survive and go on to live long, meaningful lives.
Words matter, as do facts.