The media often takes a research study’s findings completely out of context and confuses 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.
Fox News went with “Giving breasts a squeeze could hinder cancer growth.” [Somewhat NSFW photo] The article essentially replicated the Cal Berkeley press release.
Here’s one take on the subject from the Daily Beast headlined “He-He Squeezing Breasts Can Prevent Cancer” with the lede “Now this is what you call a titillating breakthrough.” The brief story ended with “Even though the study was a success, the authors caution that it probably won’t lead to a specific cancer therapy. But was it fun?”
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.”
Another Cosmo quote: “Scientists didn’t go into deets [details?] 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.
OK, “Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. Say no more, say no more.” [Monty Python sketch]
It was all in fun. What’s the harm?
Well, breast cancer is not funny.
This sort of sensationalism is misleading and trivializes a serious problem.
I’m sure that many readers of these sites are convinced that squeezing breasts prevents cancer.
Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and critical care and has re-certified in both several times. He blogs at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com and tweets as @SkepticScalpel. His blog averages over 1400 page views per day, and he has over 9100 followers on Twitter.