Prevention: incredibly important yet far less in a spotlight when compared to development of a medicine. That is probably why women dominate it. This is a unanimous view of the participants of the panel that focuses on cancer prevention.
It is not about big money. It is not about fame. It is simply about playing defence and not a glorified offense, says Brigitte Mohn, board member of the Bertelsmann Foundation, adding that the strive for a ‘silver bullet’ - a strive for a cure - gets most of the attention. However, things are slowly improving, Carolyn Aldige, President of Prevent Cancer Foundation, argues. Still, there is a long way to go.
Yet, there are more and more examples of success, such as the tobacco legislation that for instance bans smoking in public places. Tobacco lobbyists were pressing hard against it. “They even launched a personal attack against me and tried to discredit me. But they failed,” recalls Martina Poetschke-Langer of the German Cancer Research.
Other panelists tell a story of neglect. “I was never attacked. But they did not join me,” says Aldige adding that instead of cheering for prevention majority kept looking for a medicine. “You need to advertise the right data at the right time. You need to present these data to the press. It is effective, when you do it right,” offers recipe for success Poetschke-Langer.
At the same time, it is important to fight prejudices. “When we set up our foundation, stroke was considered an old people’s disease,” remembers Mohn adding that such a notion is simply wrong. Stroke can hit a young person, a mother-to-be, it can hit just about anybody and spreading the word thus can make a huge difference. As Poetschke-Langer sees it, this task is – and is going to be – largely up to women. “Prevention relies on communication and women are better in communicating than men,” she explains.
It only follows that women need to be proactive on the personal level as well. Men often refuse to get checked, says Christa Maar, a Founder of Felix Burda Stiftung, adding that it requires women to change the men’s minds – or to act on their behalf.
“We need to make appointment for the men. We are the gatekeepers after all,” agrees Aldige suggesting that sometimes it is simply about dragging ones partner to the doctor. Other time, it is all about getting the word out. For instance, lung cancer is the most preventable of all the types of cancer. Stop smoking and the chance of getting sick decreases significantly, explains Poetschke-Langer.
To get the message of the power of prevention out, women need to be heard, all the participants of the panel agree. In a male-dominated environment, that often requires to turn into an alpha dog. “I am an alpha dog,” admits Cornelia Ulrich, Director of NCT Heidelberg, adding that she has to be an alpha dog. Otherwise, her department would not get any funding. It is simple like that.
“We don’ t want to take over the world,” says Ulrich. We just want to do our jobs. “We want it to be normal that there are women in leading positions,” she adds.