A new campaign to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer is being called “repugnant” and “insensitive” after ads were aired showing patients wishing they had less deadly forms of cancer.
The UK charity Pancreatic Cancer Action defended the campaign, saying it’s important to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer’s extremely low survival rate compared to that of breast and testicular cancers.
Kerry Harvey, a 24-year-old diagnosed with pancreatic cancer appears in one ad, saying, “I wish I had breast cancer.”
Only 3 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive the next five years, compared to 85 percent of breast cancer and 97 percent of testicular cancer patients.
Critics took to Twitter to denounce the ads.
“Your I Wish I Had Breast Cancer slogan is offensive, repugnant and hurtful towards all cancer victims and their families,” tweeted one woman.
“Horrible insensitive campaign for those with breast cancer and those who have lost loved ones,” wrote another.
Other cancer charities criticized the campaign as well.
"We can’t support any message that suggests that any form of cancer is preferable to any other. Or any inference that breast cancer has been 'solved’,” said Chris Askew, CEO of Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
“It’s utterly misleading to imply that breast cancer is a more desirable form of the disease,” Askew added.
Pancreatic Care Action thinks many have misinterpreted their message.
“All types of cancer are horrific and no one would wish to be affected in any form,” said the group's founder Ali Stunt.
“It is important to remember that the advert features real pancreatic cancer patients and all they want is a better chance of survival,” she added. “As you know, awareness is key to early diagnosis and this is particularly true for pancreatic cancer. In our case, despite the best efforts of ourselves and other pancreatic cancer organizations, for 40 years, pancreatic cancer patients in the UK have faced the same grim prognosis – only a three percent chance of survival and an average life expectancy of less than six months.”
Prof. Jane Maher, the Joint Chief Medical Officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, backs the campaign.
“Survival rates are particularly poor for pancreatic cancer, in part because its signs and symptoms are very hard to spot,” Maher said. “We must ensure more people are diagnosed at an early stage to give them the best possible chance of recovery.”
She said she hopes the campaign helps people to spot the early warning signs of pancreatic cancer: new onset, persistent upper abdominal or upper back pain; yellowing of skin or eyes; and unexplained weight loss.