I do feel slightly guilty about this, because there are some very good health charities out there. BMJ summer column.

Dear [health journalist],

As awareness day/week/month for [disease] is coming up fast—just the thing for those summer slow news days!—we have lots to offer you for features, comment, articles, photos!

CELEBRITY! We are very happy to announce that [celebrity] is now our spokesperson/ambassador/patron! S/he is willing to be interviewed on the subject of [disease] which s/he had a “scare” about/has had/had a friend who had it/has always been worried about. As you know, s/he is in the news lately because of Big Brother/football spousal injunction/autobiography/launch of own vajazzaling range. S/he thinks that the current lack of awareness of [disease] is scandalous and is campaigning for more to be done! LIMITED INTERVIEWS AVAILABLE! Phone us to arrange quickly if you are interested!!!

SURVEY! We asked our members what should be done about [disease]. They said that we need more awareness because not everyone has heard about [disease]. They said that we need more funding because not enough is being done. And we need more specialist nurses, who can know lots about [disease] and can educate doctors/nurses/patients. Also, we are lobbying government because of their shocking lack of interest in [disease]; we’ve waited long enough for new drug discoveries/more funding/more research/a devoted university department/a [charity name] professor/a higher profile!

PATIENTS! Next, we have several PATIENTS willing to tell their story (Miranda, blonde, and used to be a model!) can explain how it took three visits to her GP to get a referral to the right department in the hospital. Or there’s Gary, who can tell you all about how [disease] has affected him and how he’s trying to improve awareness by running a marathon dressed as a chicken/trekking across the Sahara/bathing in baked beans as well as fundraising! Not only that but you can sign up to our Twitter/Facebook/Google+/web campaign and pledge your time/money/celebrity while promising to be more aware!

FREE! And best of all, we have a FREE! online test for [disease] for your readers. Simply by answering simple questions, your readers can work out if they have/are at risk of having/in the process of getting [disease] and take action to stop it/prevent it/get help! We can’t obviously diagnose or predict anything for certain, but we can make sure everyone is much more AWARE of the key signs (possible key signs of possible [disease]) and sees their doctor if they think they might have [disease] and INSIST on a referral to a specialist because general practitioners aren’t aware enough about [disease].

If that one doesn’t thrill you, don’t worry: there are several other more notable days coming up this month!!!


[Health public relations agency]

6 Responses to “GENERIC PRESS RELEASE FROM (health charity)”

  1. The Jobbing Doctor July 31, 2011 at 6:00 am #

    Hi Margaret,

    As someone who has taught screening as a process down the years to students and doctors in training, I was always regarded as slightly heretical in my questioning of much of the “screening industry”. If you apply Wilson and Jungner (1968) to the process, then the only screening intervention that fulfils all the criteria is taking the blood pressure of middle aged men. Much of the rest has been introduced as a result of lobbying.

  2. Chris Hiley August 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    Laughed like a drain, a hollow HOLLOW drain, when I read the above. Lovely, Margaret! I am a reformed cancer awareness functionary from a cancer charity. I am now free of the cult and have been rational and thinking for three years now. I aspire to injecting coherence into thinking on cancer awareness. All those bloddy awareness months….. and peering over each others shoulders, doing the same thing, repeating the same errors. If entire health sectors can be neurotic, the cancer charities are. Prostate cancer was obsessed with copying the breast cancer charities. I diligently enquired what the evidence was that breast cancer charities were good for women.
    The wind blew. Tumbleweed rolled. Why assume a prostate cancer charity emulating a breast one would be good for men? Answer came there none. I blog about that kind of thing on
    I bet ‘awareness’ is mostly sited in marketing departments in charities and not as a service like, say, a nurse led helpline. People with cancer are cared for by the Dr Jekyll side of charities, with some excellent services with information and support etc. Then Mr Hyde errupts. If you ain’t got cancer the rest of you are all fair game, I’m afraid. Cancer awareness is brand recognition, and fundraising, not health promotion. And is hopeless as a result.

    I must personally aplogise to your readers for the huge numbers of men with prostate cancer whom I helped create by discussing the PSA test in my previous job, over seveal years. Richard Ablin has some acid reflections on the PSA test too, incidentally. He’s worth Googling. He invented the damn thing.

    And if anyone knows how to work out the global research spend on tweaking all aspects of that egregious PSA ‘screening’ test so it ‘works’ please go ahead. Then we can quantify the spend that should have gone on something designed for the purpose in the last two and a half decades which would save more lives and maimed far fewer men as a side effect.
    Having taken what I learnt about the PSA test to heart – or brain – I refused my first breast screening appoinment earlier this year. Also mentioned in my blog. Did you know the word ‘cancer’ doesn’t appear in the appointment letter for mammography in my part of England? Weird. I suggested they were manipulating women into attending because the word ‘cancer’ might frighten them off, otherwise …….

  3. Margaret McCartney
    margaretmccartney August 2, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    oh do send that to the bmj – i bet the’d print it .
    are you on twitter?

  4. Chris Hiley August 2, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    I am on Twitter. @ChrisHiley.

    Which bit might the BMJ like, do you think? I slid across several issues thoguh I hope I was perinent to where you started. I’m gearing up to be more blunt in my critique of cancer charities. As some (I exclude bowel and lung for reasons of sympathy) are now multi million pound businesses I figure lil’ ol’ me can’t do any harm by just saying……what I think and out loud.

  5. Margaret McCartney
    margaretmccartney August 2, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    all of it, I hope – just send it in as a rapid response. Bet it gets printed. Your insight is pretty special – keep saying it. Bowel cancer screening is not being fairly advertised at present – bowel cancer charities not helping.

  6. Katherine OBrien September 26, 2011 at 1:31 am #

    I blog about living with metastatic breast cancer.

    There are no celebrity spokespeople for metastatic (aka Stage IV) breast cancer. I am sure we can all name actresses, musicians (Sheryl, Melissa, Christina etc.) that crusade against breast cancer, but they have early stage breast cancer. No one dies from cancer that remains within the breast. When it spreads outside the breast, well, boy howdy, life gets interesting (and invariably shorter).

    In the US, the late Elizabeth Edwards was the probably the most well known person with the disease.

    On the cusp of breast cancer awareness month, people with MBC brace themselves for a barrage of activities and promotions.

    Such as this email I got from Cross My Kumquats* bras:

    “We have partnered with the American Cancer Society to raise funds during Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” the marketing director wrote. “We are trying to make a big splash in the market and could really use your help.”

    I learned that the Cross My Kumquats’ soft and stretchy material has elicited positive reviews from the postsurgical. ”Several customers say our bras are great for use after surgery and treatments because they lay comfortably on the wound. These bras are also considered sporty and would be perfect to wear while participating in team walks and activities. 100% of the profits raised by sales of these styles will be dontated to the American Cancer Society for research into the cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure of Breast Cancer.”

    I read on, eager to learn how the bras might save the rainforests, too, but there was only photos and sale information.

    I admit, I was sorely tempted. But ultimately, I responded with my regrets:

    Thanks for thinking of me. I won’t be able to help you promote Cross My Kumquats for several reasons.

    First, as a practical matter, I no longer have a left breast. Reconstruction wasn’t recommended.

    Second, after 35 or so years of avoiding the humiliating truth, I am force to admit it: I am flatchested and me wearing a bra is like a blind person wearing sunglasses–it probably looks better but it is not strictly necessary.

    Third, I don’t think I am your target audience. I don’t have “fun let’s wear something pink” breast cancer. (Here is where I must point out that 20 to 30 percent of those originally dx’d with an early stage cancer will go on to have a recurrence, unfortunately quite a few will be joining me in the “OMG! I Can’t Believe It’s Metastatic” club.)

    Surgery is not standard of care for people with metastatic breast cancer (altho some do have it and I did). My cancer had spread (mets) when it was found. That is unusual. Most women diagnosed with breast cancer already had their surgery, chemo, rads, etc. and now, months, years or decades later their cancer came back, despite their vigilance, regular exams, exercise and strict diets. (Which makes some kinda bitter about doing walks, etc.)

    Fourth, the American Cancer Society uses little money to fund metastatic issues–I believe less than 2%.
    I could suppport, however.

    Fifth, I am working to promote National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day (Oct 13, Endorsing Cross My Kumquats would undermine my credibility.
    Rock on
    *Names changed to protect the ignorant