NeoMatrix Promotes EARLY Act

Wow.  That didn’t take long.  Once again, private industry is poised to exploit women’s fears of breast cancer for profit.  This time – women under 45.

NeoMatrix, the makers of the HALO Breast Pap Test, are throwing considerable resources toward ensuring passage of the EARLY Act.  The Act calls for a national education campaign on the risks of breast cancer in young adult women (under 45) with an emphasis on early detection.  The legislation was introduced in March by Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz, a 42-year-old breast cancer survivor.  The HALO test is a kit used to obtain nipple fluid to assess breast cancer risk that the makers recommend to  “be an annual test for all non-lactating women 25 and over.”

By early September NeoMatrix was hosting a congressional reception on Capitol Hill in support of the EARLY Act.   And that was only the beginning.

The EARLY Act has strong support in the House, but has faced strong criticism from cancer experts and epidemiologists, including the chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, and does not yet have majority support in the Senate.  On October 1, NeoMatrix launched a slick website to provide “an easy way for EARLY Act supporters to tell their U.S. senators to support the bill,” according to their press release.

Why is NeoMatrix so passionate about passage of the EARLY Act, even though leading experts have serious concerns?  Well, just as AstraZeneca, makers of the anti-breast cancer drug Tamoxifen, loved the idea of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, NeoMatrix loves the EARLY Act because it will increase demand for their product, the HALO test that promises to warn young women of an increased risk of breast cancer.

By marketing the test with the Pap name the company also hopes to connect the test with the successful Pap smear for cervical cancer, though in fact, the HALO test is quite different.  The test does not have the potential to find cancerous cells.  Only about half of women will produce fluid for the test, which in itself is billed as a “normal” result.  Of those who produce fluid, one to two percent will have atypcial cells.  This is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer in the future, however, according to their website “atypia often corrects itself.”  Physicians don’t know how many of the women with a “normal” result or with no atypia, will in fact develop breast cancer in the future.  And of those with atypia, physicians have no research to guide the appropriate course of action, particularly when some will resolve on its own.

The EARLY Act, or The Breast Cancer Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act of 2009,  is focused on creating a national campaign to  “increase public awareness of the threats posed by breast cancer in young women” and on “awareness of risk factors and achieving early detection through community-centered informational forums, public service advertisements, and media campaigns.”

But haven’t we learned our lesson?   We’ve already had twenty-five years of breast cancer awareness campaigns and very little progress.  The kicker is – early detection is even less likely to be the “best weapon” in the fight against breast cancer in young women.  Especially with pre-menopausal breast cancer we can’t afford to lose focus and resources on what really matters.  Researchers don’t know why, but breast cancer is often more aggressive in younger women.  We need much much more than awareness and early detection to beat this disease.  Many researchers believe that aggressive cancers behave differently from the beginning, and may be laying the foundation for recurrences or metastasis from the get-go.   Why do some breast cancers that are caught small and early still go on to take women’s lives?  Why do younger women tend to have these aggressive cancers?  Nobody knows, but this is what we need to be focusing on.

We can’t make good public policy and make progress in eradicating this disease in young women by letting industry guide us and ignoring those who have dedicated their lives to studying breast cancer.  In 25 years, will we be bemoaning the over-commercialization of breast cancer “awareness” in young women too?  Will we have our own color?

My ten-year-old daughter, who now has an increased risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer simply because of my diagnosis, deserves much better than industry fueled campaigns of good intentions.  She deserves the benefit of the best minds and the best scientists in the field working for REAL progress in understanding this disease.  For her sake, I’m not settling for another misguided awareness campaign.  I’m holding out for the real answers on aggressive pre-menopausal breast cancers, their treatment, and most of all, their prevention.  It’s not the easy or popular stance right now, but as I tell my three kids, doing what’s right usually isn’t.

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  • Marjorie  On October 13, 2009 at 11:25 am

    No one should settle for another misguided awareness campaign. Targeting younger women, specifically teens, seems predatory at best. Young women need empowerment to develop and sustain healthier habits and certainly not more angst ridden messages.

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