Breast Cancer Screening, the Latest Avatar of Medical Misogyny

ANNETTE LEXA – August 21, 2015

Value of breast cancer screening is not scientifically proven

Breast cancer screening seems obvious to women and we have all been lulled by these “evidences”: breast cancer is the first cause of death in women, cancer is a horrible disease that threatens us all, the earlier a cancer is detected, the more it is cured, screening can detect small cancers that can be treated, if we do it early we will have fewer mutilating ablations.

However, contrary to what is asserted everywhere, and even on institutional sites when they intend to promote DOCS (organized breast cancer screening), women die much more in France from cardiovascular diseases 1. While breast cancer mortality has decreased slightly (from 4% to 3%), colon and lung cancer deaths have not changed over the same period [1] .

This small decrease is mainly due to the fact that women have become more attentive and better informed and that surgical and radiotherapy treatments have made great progress.

Since 2009, a scientific controversy (here, here, here, here) has developed around the risk/benefit balance of breast cancer screening, presented as the medical examination of choice that is supposed to reduce this mortality. This controversy has arisen from large epidemiological studies in various Western countries (not in France where epidemiology is a politically incorrect science to be avoided). This controversy is currently heating up with this recent American study (here) which demonstrates more masterfully that early detection not only did not reduce mortality that had become stable, but also did not reduce breast ablations.

Screening’s ‘assets’ continue to be praised with its double reading (in France) in case of a negative result, which would be the top of the top of scientific rigor. Whereas no one seems to matter this simple question of common sense: “why not double reading in case of a positive result? ». What an arrogant and asymmetrical confidence in the infallible reading of the specialist! The risk of false positives (false cancers) with its heavy and disabling prescriptions and the risk of false negatives (with the recurrent discovery by women themselves of the famous “interval cancers” between two examinations) are systematically underestimated. And finally, the risk of developing cancer through an excess of examinations and radiotherapy (here) is most certainly underestimated, whereas recent work (here) should on the contrary incite the greatest caution with radiosensitive women.

But, obviously, the sacrosanct principle of precaution – especially when the risk-benefit balance is not proven – is much more scrupulously applied for chickens, steaks or cereals than for bodies of healthy women (not to mention the use of contraceptive pill, hormone treatment for menopause, breast prostheses, caesarean sections, periodical tampons, etc.).

Manipulative techniques to impose screening on a docile and captive female audience

 But then why have we been witnessing for years this veritable military operation of quasi-Stalinist national recruitment [2] of women to the depths of the most remote campaigns and by all means?  Doctors, institutions, associations, politicians, all enlisted for the Great National Cause with the numerical objective of bringing recruitment ideally to 70 or even 80%.  We go so far as to use “mammobiles” that travel around the Hérault department in the most remote villages to overcome the “reluctance” of “vulnerable” women and “women with a bad self-image” (I’m not exaggerating, go read here) and offer a free “useful” exam to women as early as 40).

Every year, we are entitled to the trickery of the Pink October campaign with the surge of indecent, manipulative, guilt-ridden, infantile messages, to reach women through the emotional supposed to be their main vector of communication and aiming to turn them all into cancerous ninnies ignoring themselves. Even if it means crushing individual lives, intimacy, and fulfilled sexuality, destroying couples and families (overtreating cancer is not a trivial event without risk, it is a personal drama) and leaving women in insurmountable financial difficulties because they are definitively labeled ex-cancerous (job loss, credit insurance…).

Treasures of imagination will be deployed to improve the self-image of the healthy women who are to be recruited by all means. But this does not really seem to be a priority anymore for a ex-cancer patient over 50 years old who must consider herself lucky to still be alive.

You will tell me that men also have their Movember to “fight prostate cancer”. The PSA blood screening campaign was a failure and its interest was quickly questioned. It’s true that men (including doctors), who care about their virility more than anything else, quickly understood the risk of overdiagnosis and overtreatment with its share of impotence and incontinence…. don’t touch my virility.

Women’s body control through medicine: a long history 

I will answer that this relentlessness to control women’s bodies is not new in French medicine:

– The 19th century saw the invention of Charcot’s hysteria, all feminine, which became the sexual neurosis of women who were believed to be deprived of a penis according to Freud.

André Brouillet, Dr. Charcot at the Salpêtrière

– With the praiseworthy aim of fighting syphilis, Pasteurian hygienism led to the control of captive prostitutes in brothels who had to undergo monthly degrading medical visits that clients never had to undergo, even though they were themselves just as vectors (of  transmission) of bacteria.

The medical visit , Toulouse Lautrec

– The control of childbirth by men from beginning of the 19th century resulted in a hecatomb of deaths in labour caused by the excessive hubris of hospital doctors who had taken over the childbirth. This hecatomb lasted until the 1930s. While 80% of pregnancies are normal, we then witnessed the increasing medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth, whose anxiety-provoking, cold and dehumanized nature did not escape any woman who experienced this event. In addition, there was an obsession with the control and normalization of this natural act with its share of episiotomies, epidurals and caesarean sections. It should be noted that this medical hypertechnicalization has not been accompanied by a decrease in maternal mortality in France.

– The invention of the oral contraceptive “pill” for women (why not for men?) became the symbol of female emancipation, of sexual liberation. However, for 4 decades, the medical profession has minimized and under-informed women about the side effects of this drug taken by women who are not ill. Yet this drug is a real endocrine disruptor classified as a group 1 carcinogen (definite carcinogen) by the IARC in 2012. The list of side effects that women docilely accept the risk of is as long as a poem à la Prévert: weight gain, cellulite, acne, headaches, depression, decreased libido, fatal venous and thrombo-embolic problems, slight increase in breast cancer and uterine cancer, etc. 

Yet no feminist, after the euphoria of the 70s and 80s, seemed to see the symbolic violence of this medicalization of women’s bodies and sexuality.  In a terrible relational asymmetry, men were thus able to dispose of the bodies of women and very young girls brought by their own mothers in a irresponsible manner, and regularly complied with the medical visit to “their” gynecologist, demanding for the most scrupulous among them regular blood tests to monitor their cholesterol levels, accepting without flinching this control of their bodies and their sexuality, and sometimes serious undesirable effects of this constraining intake.

How can we speak of women’s liberation (“my body belongs to me”) with this passage from patriarchal submission to medical submission and to the desire of men since they are supposed to be 100% “available” from now on, and in case of a decrease in libido caused by taking the pill, they will blame themselves near their doctor-trust-sexologist? Recently, there has been concern about the urinary discharge of pill metabolites (17β-estradiol) present in aquatic environments at a concentration of around ng/L and responsible from this dose for fertility disorders and hermaphrodism in fish.

French society has not ceased to be worried about the impact of certain pesticides, brominated flame retardants, phthalates, glycol ethers, nonylphenol, Bisphenol A (a molecule that mimics estrogenic hormones) in food plastics, phytoestrogens, etc..,  on the reproductive system of humans and animals) but it continues to authorize the sale of oral contraceptives “under medical supervision” when it does not give them free of charge to teenagers who have just reached puberty in secondary school, prepared by official Natural Sciences classes where the pill is presented as a simple means of having regular periods [4] … figure it out. Finally, how many women, struggling to start a pregnancy after 10 years or more of oral contraception, without asking themselves more than that, are complying with heavy methods of medically assisted procreation (MAP) whose violence and constraint have nothing to envy to what has just been described? What is to be thought of a Ministry of Health that advertises oocyte donation[5] without mentioning the heaviness of hormonal treatment and its possible consequences? What about companies such as Facebook and Google that encourage their employees to freeze their oocytes to fight against the biological clock by trivializing hormonal treatments of retrieval and reimplantation?

– In the aftermath, women were convinced that menopause was a pathology and medicalization of menopause was invented with hormone replacement therapy which was supposed to have a preventive role against a host of future diseases. Still today, TSH is too often given to treat simple transitory disorders sometimes felt at this time like hot flashes, night sweats, low libido or vaginal dryness, or even it is given (and claimed by some women) as a “preventive” with the promise of staying young.  Let us recall all the same that the treatment of menopause is classified as carcinogenic and that even  health authorities today encourage the greatest caution in its use.

Women were made to believe that, now that they lacked hormones, it was natural for them to suffer all sorts of inconveniences that needed to be corrected if they wanted to continue to appear socially young and sexually desirable (unless they naturally questioned at that age about their emotional life, the departure of their children, their desire and sexuality, etc.) . As each woman is unique and is her own witness, none of them can boast of the real effectiveness of TSH on her menopause and it is more than likely that a good part of effectiveness felt is a kisscool effect.

– As soon as craze for TSH waned, we witnessed the mass submission, sometimes from the age of 40, to mammography screening, a painful and anxiety-provoking examination of uncertain benefit to reduce mortality, and which only resulted in a dizzying increase in the number of small cancers that would not have developed, or very slowly or would have regressed, and the number of unnecessary and traumatic breast ablations.
It should be noted that these last two acts of violence against women’s bodies concern the “not so-youngest” who no longer represent the ideal of youth and fertility of the young woman, the eternal object of male fantasy, and to which the 50+ woman must comply.

– The trivialization of heavy, painful and sometimes dangerous surgical procedures to have silicone breast implants in order to improve their self-image, to conform to a totally constructed social norm (the very thin woman with very large breasts) and to respond to male fantasies. Would we imagine for one moment 400,000 men in France undergoing surgery to inflate their penis or testicles?

– The submission to cervical cancer vaccines of uncertain benefit, with great reinforcement of campaigns blaming the mothers of young teenagers. Here again, why should women be the main vector of the papillomavirus in question? Why has a mixed campaign not been launched targeting both young heterosexual boys – and homosexuals particularly concerned – and young girls, if not because the medical world has a captive market with women and their daughters, docile, easy to make feel guilty and educated to obey?

Social control and submission to standards 

This docility of women with regard to medical world has changed little in spite of women’s emancipation. And corporations and advertisers in charge of promotional campaigns are well aware of this, when they illustrate the importance of breast cancer screening by using images of young women with perfect bust, when they are not using guilty messages depicting family and “good friends”. They continue to go running “against breast cancer” (who would be for, I ask you??) wearing a pink pin, dreadful gendered color, and don’t hesitate to attend Tupperware meetings stamped Pink October to convince their reluctant girlfriends to go to the nearest mammobile.

Why this excessive relentlessness of medicine with the complicity of highest authorities of the State and their squads of civil servants in Regions to want to control the normality of breasts of women and to submit them down to their intimacy?

Why can we not find the beginning of an equivalent such control of the male body and such submission in men? Why doesn’t medicine strive with same deployment of means to reduce mortality from cardiovascular disease in women, which represents almost 7 times more deaths per year than from breast cancer?  Or to lower female mortality from lung and colon cancer?  It is true that the heart, lung and colon are organs that are much less sexed. Women, contrary to what they claim, have not emancipated themselves from society’s control over their bodies and sexuality. They have swapped one Master (father, husband, priest…) for another, representing the Promethean techno-scientific power supposed to watch over their bodies, which are inevitably disturbed, easily maladjusted, and which, if they are not careful, are the seat of all sorts of frightening feminine pathologies, this submission obscuring the perspective of a life as a woman, as a lover, as a mother in full bloom. Worse, women are women’s worst enemies: making a daughter take the pill, recruiting her good friends is tantamount to making themselves accomplices in their submission, just as women are accomplices in the excision of the youngest in other cultures.

Some (here and here) have recently questioned the misogyny of the French medical profession, but paradoxically these theses have not seduced our journalists from women’s magazines, who are nevertheless quick to liberate the sexuality of their readers.  This thesis did not seem to please the various feminist movements either, refusing to see in this pseudo-emancipation another form of alienation, as Marc Girard has very well demonstrated. There is in this submission an absolute unthought, a taboo, a blind spot that the struggle for women’s emancipation has been unable to see.

Still today, the majority of women are not very curious and critical of recommendations that are made to them: submissive, constrained or outright exalted followers of the Church of Depistology (Europa Donna and other Pink October with the support of Sephora, Tupperware and Esthé Lauder), they do not go to critical blogs (to those previously mentioned, I will add here and there) to have another point of view and to reflect by themselves.

Control by Church 

Even though we live today in a secularized society, the past influence of the Church still unconsciously permeates our morals and mentalities. For centuries, the Catholic Church – like all monotheistic religious institutions – has sought to insist on the inferiority of women. She has sought to control the bodies and minds of women, for whom she has always had contradictory feelings: at once docile, submissive, modest and maternal, women remain for Church also a whore temptress, a witch or a fool incapable of judgment and decision by herself. Without going back very far, let’s go back some 150 years. The few progressive women of the time are often put forward, but this is to forget that in the 19th century, while the predominantly male republican minds attacked the Church, the vast majority of women continued to be kept apart from the world, confined to their role as mothers, consolers, and social workers. Fear, restraint, modesty, devotion, virtue, these were the main qualities demanded of women who had only to please God and their husbands. Education was forbidden or very limited, and it was believed that she was incapable of intellectual life. Put aside from leisure, sport and study, women were considered weak and society had to protect them from themselves.

The adulterous woman was guilty when the man could act the most natural way in the world.  The woman was excluded from any religious function, unable to relate to transcendence and easily perverted by the Devil. For a long time, menstruation, the mystery of gestation, seduction and sexual attraction, the power of women over domestic life (where she had been locked up) frightened men terribly.

Still at the beginning of the 20th century, priests questioned young teenage girls about their violently prohibited masturbation practices (testimony of my own mother who lived through this in the 1930s at the age of 10).

Since the weakening of warlike societies and religious power, women have gradually been emancipated and immense progress has been made in recent decades. Has misogyny disappeared for all that? Nothing is less certain. Today, women study, divorce, work, have children they want, can have abortions, vote and know in theory the same rights as men. But differences still exist, reminiscent of a past, paternalistic, misogynistic world that still survives in the medical world where difference in treatment between men and women, although having taken a less coercive and more inciting form, remains glaring.

Medicine and Church  

For a long time medicine and religion were confounded, in the same fear of death .

The Age of Enlightenment saw the seeds of a new medicine that was meant to be rational. Did not the doctor with his new rites of medical examination replace the priest in his immense faith in medical progress and science, his interest in so-called ethical questions, his obsession with the control of female bodies from birth to death, whether in physiological, psychological, psychiatric or psychoanalytical field? Church saw woman of the 19th century as a layer, constantly pregnant or nursing. For the past 50 years, she has been put in a chemical straitjacket in a state of constant artificial sterility, now required to live a permanent sexual life where any drop in libido is experienced as suspect. She is also told not to complain about adverse effects (“it’s in their head”). Any progress? In a sense yes, of course, but it is not certain that woman has not swapped her dependence for another alienation. And that male body of society is not yet consciously or unconsciously trying to control these bodies, so different from that of men, by their formidable cyclical capacity to seduce, to engender life.

Saint, whore, witch and Ninni, the four women of God, isn’t that what contemporary diktats demand of women? At the same time to be a submissive and ignorant virgin, but also a temptress and seducer.

The era of biopower

Today we have entered the era of biopower, of state control of bodies from birth to death. Public health is a vast operation of planning, a series of recommendations that seeks to control any form of epidemic (with its vaccine obsession) or the development of aggressive factors (such as cancer); for this, it must also control medical power, doctors.

By necessity of management, the biopower has equipped itself with performance tools. There are no longer individuals, there are only medical images, protocols, populations, statistics. Worse, this biopower is tainted by cynical and soulless consumerism and it knows perfectly well how to talk to “health care consumers” under the guise of simplistic, soft and guilt-ridden arguments mixing fear, security and precaution and enjoining individual well-being as the only eschatological horizon.

The right to say “NO” 

Yet, no, we are not condemned to live our lives as women under a medical sword of Damocles, tetanized by fertility and menopause disorders, female cancers and medicalized pregnancies.

No, we are not condemned to live our lives after 50 years cahin-caha, depressed and petrified with anxiety between a mammogram and a biopsy, with the fear of one day finding ourselves mutilated (and rebuilt?), while swallowing our TSH with a glass of alcohol to pass.

We can re-appropriate our bodies in all their beauty and their fertile and erotic power.

We have the freedom not to accept to be a pre-cancerous woman who ignored herself, not to accept to give in to fatalism, fear and control, to the overbidding of long, painful, sometimes humiliating, sometimes dangerous tests, and we can build our lives with our companions in a complementary, responsible and respectful relationship without relying on misinformed doctors who have been trained only to answer our questions as normal and healthy women with tests and prescriptions.

We can demand respect for our values and preferences, in a dignified and respectful relationship with doctors.

For this, there is a wonderful natural remedy called trust in Life.


1] In France (latest available source: INSEE, 2011), where the life expectancy of a woman is 85 years, the main causes of mortality in women are as follows:

73,842 of cardiovascular diseases (28% compared to 36% in 1996)

16,106 lung diseases (6% compared to 8% in 1996)

10,286 of digestive diseases (4% versus 5% in 1996)

5,800 of infectious and parasitic diseases (2% compared to 2% in 1996)

and for cancers :

7,734 in respiratory tract and lung cancer (3% vs. 3% in 1996)

8,113 of cancer of the colon, rectum, anus (3% compared to 3% in 1996)

11,623 women died of breast cancer (2% compared to 4% in 1996).

2] the suppression of the Individual Screening has even been imagined by the High Authority of Health in 2011 (here)

3] France, with its 2.3 deaths per 1000 births is in 17th position in Europe in 2013.


5] Campaign of the Biomedicine Agency “Become a Happiness Donor“.

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