Charities scorn media message

Cancer and family planning charities have accused the national media of using new breast cancer statistics to induce guilt in professional women about their lifestyle decisions.

Family planning group FPA hit out at The Times after it ran a front-page story on breast cancer figures from the Office of National Statistics under the headline, "Breast cancer deadlier for career women".

"This kind of research is used to bash career women over the head," said Melissa Dear, spokeswoman at FPA. "Anything that intentionally tries to induce guilt about having jobs and careers and not having children early enough is undesirable, and this research has been put towards social purposes by The Times rather than being of any real use to women."

Breast Cancer Care also criticised newspapers' representation of the research, which showed that for the first time managerial and professional women are 50 per cent more likely to die from breast cancer than unskilled and semi-skilled women.

Stories in the media linked the new figures with well-publicised risk factors for the disease such as delaying childbirth or not having children at all.

But Pamela Goldberg, chief executive of Breast Cancer Campaign, said the research is unbalanced.

"The problem is that with incomplete research like this you're only getting one side of the story," she said. "You've also got to appreciate that the research reflects the huge improvements in breast cancer screening and treatments among women from the lower socio-economic brackets."

Christine Fogg, joint chief executive at Breast Cancer Care, added: "Almost every week women are faced with a new story about the causes of breast cancer.

"Women should not be made to feel guilty about their lifestyle decisions. These stories can cause unnecessary anxiety, and often leave women with an exaggerated perception of their risk of developing breast cancer," she said.

Susan Osbourne, director of communications at Cancer Research UK, said that the coverage hammered home the importance of charities getting the right information out to women.

"It's the duty of all cancer charities to share the information they have from their own research with the wider community of women in the UK," she said. "We have to set an example by using our influence in a responsible way."

The research, published in Health Statistics Quarterly, charts the number of women from different demographics who died from breast cancer between 1997-99.

It reveals that there has been a reverse in breast cancer mortality trends among socio-economic groups. In the mid-1990s, unskilled women were 26 per cent more likely to die from breast cancer than professional women.

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