Monday, October 14, 2013

Squeezing breasts prevents cancer? How the media squeezes sensationalism out of research

Here's an example of the media taking a research study's findings completely out of context and confusing the public.

Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley found that compression of breast cancer cells grown in a laboratory made them assume a normal growth pattern.

Reports on this study may have been derailed by the university's own press release which was entitled "To revert breast cancer cells, give them the squeeze."

The study was presented at a meeting and has not been published. If you read the press release, it is very clear that the research involved only cells. The authors played down any practical use of the information, saying that even a compression bra would probably not be any value. Specifically, they said “Compression, in and of itself, is not likely to be a therapy.”

If you google "Squeezing breasts prevents cancer," you will find over 50 hits. Most of them prominently feature photos of women in various stages of undress and articles with sophomoronic (A word I just made up–a combination of sophomoric + moronic) commentary.

Here's one take on the subject from Elite Daily, the Voice of Generation-Y that cuts right to the chase: "You Can Now Help Prevent Breast Cancer By Squeezing Some Tits." [Contains NSFW photo.]

Cosmopolitan magazine's headline is "Can Squeezing Your Boobs Prevent Breast Cancer?" The brief article  [with obligatory NSFW photo.] completely misstates the findings of the research. Here's an excerpt. "A new study by a group of researchers in California proves that squeezing breast tissue can stop cancerous cells from growing. That's right, when your guy cops a feel, it's actually helping your tatas."

Here's another quote. "Scientists didn't go into deets [sic] about how your boobs should be squeezed, but said "physical pressure" was key." They didn't go into "deets" because there was nothing about actually squeezing breasts in the paper or the press release except mentioning that direct pressure on the breasts would probably not be of value.

A website called "Cancer Treatment Centers," has a rather demeaning video [NSFW beginning of video and side of page] discussion of the study by a man and a woman. Among the many stupid things, he asks her how hard he should squeeze, and she answers.

OK, "Nudge nudge. Wink wink. Say no more, say no more." [Monty Python sketch]

It was all in fun. What's the harm?

For one thing, breast cancer is not funny.

This sort of sensationalism is misleading and trivializes a serious problem.

I have no doubt that many casual or scientifically challenged readers of these sites are convinced that squeezing breasts prevents cancer.

That's too bad.


Anonymous said...

Don't tell the Boy Scouts:,14276/

Emily said...

We're going to have to redefine molestation.

Randy teen about to be arrested: "No, no, officer, you've got it all wrong. My motive was purely concern over her physical wellbeing."

Anonymous said...

No one (even the mildly retarded denizens of Appalachia) actually thinks that squeezing breasts does anything for cancer. They all get the joke.

This is along the lines of a "study" a few years ago that swallowing semen is good for women. A lot of collegiate-level laughs followed, but no one really believed it.

People are not as stupid as they look.

larissa-j said...


Actually, they are. It appears you've been fortunate enough to avoid them.

Henna said...

Anon 2, I disagree. Lots of people don't get the joke and will take it reasonably seriously.

Some people actually are just as stupid as they look, or even more so. Many people at every level of intelligence do not critically analyze most of what crosses their path.

Anonymous said...

Yes they are!

Roberto Paz said...

Excellent blog and entry! :D

Dr. Naji Abdel Samad said...

I think that is why suckling women and married women are more protected than single or those who avoid breast feedings...If we use everything in the way it was made for we will be protected....I think!!!

Skeptical Scalpel said...

I tend to agree with the commenters who think that some people will take the reports about the research seriously. Many don't even read what's on the Internet. They see the headline and believe it. I have had a number of Twitter followers respond to links I've tweeted with comments that indicate they didn't read the article.

DD said...

Sophomoronic indeed! (<--excellent new word)
The downside (to ridiculous headlines) is that a real medical issue (i.e breast cancer) that affects a huge group of people (i.e WOMEN) is made into a joke that objectifies and trivializes female bodies and health. The upside? There isn't one. Just more junk-information floating around and settling in the vapid minds of the chronically, congenitally stupid.

And--for the person who said people are NOT as stupid as they look-- Do you not live or work in the USA? Really?

Dr S refers to them as "scientifically challenged" but that is too kind.

Anonymous said...

I am the one who said that people are not as stupid as they look.

I agree that most people are not scientifically literate. However, when presented with headlines that "Squeezing breasts are good" ,or "Swallowing semen is good for women", even the dumbest of the dumb can sense something amiss. People may be stupid, but they do have some vague sense of irony and sarcasm.

Yes, you and I are smart. The average IQ is 100 (duh), but since the low ones are sequestered, the average IQ of people on the streets is prob. at least 105. We are commenting on a medical web-site, so we prob have IQ's of 120+.

The OP becomes news because it is a joke. Your stupid landscaper isn't going to paw a breast because he convinces a woman that he is preventing breast cancer. Even with his IQ of 100.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

DD, thanks for the comments. The study was interesting but not worthy of such extensive media coverage.

Anon, I see your point. I wish there was a way we could research this but I don't think it will happen.

Cynthia said...

Pseudo science oftentimes seems to trump real science with journalists. The criterion for publishing an article is primarily how sensational or controversial it is, not how well the study was done, the study's actual conclusions, how the study ranks versus the other evidence already peer reviewed and published, and the credentials of the research team members. This is pure speculation, no new data was used in the study, or created by the study itself, no empirical evidence is cited to justify the conclusion reached, and no explanation of why the other studies might have been flawed were presented. The public very much needs and is entitled to demand, a corp of qualified, objective, scientist reporters. More often than not, what we see and what we get is someone who happened to take a mid-level science course in college posing as a science reporter.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Good comment. It's all about how many "clicks" one can get on the news outlet's website.

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