Making Cancer Sexy

More women die from lung cancer than breast cancer in the United States each year, but readers may not guess that from a recent Time cover story. The cover features a young, thin woman awkwardly holding her naked, airbrushed body and staring vacantly into space. Her disengaged expression, says Karen Lurie of, is that of a mannequin or a blow-up doll.

Then again, notes Lurie, women can’t fondle their naked lungs. And if they could, it wouldn’t be “sexy.”

While using a young model to portray the face of breast cancer sells magazines, statistically, it isn’t realistic. Rarely do women develop breast cancer in their 20s. Instead, the real risk comes with age. A woman’s chance of getting breast cancer is one out of 257 from age 30 to 40, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. By the time a woman reaches 70, her chance of developing breast cancer increases to a rate of one out of 24.

Overall, more people die of heart disease each year than all forms of cancer combined. But heart disease isn’t sexy. And neither is prostate cancer – the most common type of cancer for men – but Time hasn’t put any “buff, naked guys cupping their ‘family jewels'” on the cover, says Lurie. If there was a cover story like that, she says, “the editors would no doubt go with the hangdog-yet-resolute face of either Joe Torre or Rudy Giuliani.”
–Kate Garsombke
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