Editorial: Few New Zealand families will not have had to watch a friend or loved one die from breast cancer, our third most common cancer. More than 600 women are killed by it each year, too often because they have not realised until too late that they have it.
So it is understandable that the Breast Cancer Foundation is using whatever means it can to promote public awareness, even to the extent of protesting that Kiwi prudishness is preventing it from replicating a shocking but hugely successful advertising campaign carried out last year in Scotland.
The Scottish campaign was a spectacular success. Paid for by the Scottish Government and fronted by a bare-breasted actress, the month-long television campaign highlighted the many different signs of potential breast cancer beyond the lump that all women are urged to check for regularly - potential symptoms like puckering or dimpling of the skin and inverted nipples.
It certainly focused the attention of female viewers in the United Kingdom and led to a 50 per cent jump in the number of women seeking breast examinations.
The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation says it wanted to run the same style of campaign here, a month-long in-your- face series of bare-breasted television advertisements highlighting the symptoms most women aren't aware of but are pointers to cancerous growths that need to be dealt with at the earliest possible stage for treatment to have the best chance of success.
Except, the foundation says, industry watchdog the Commercial Approvals Bureau turned the ads down because breasts, and especially breasts with nipples, should not be shown on television before 8.30 in the evening. (The bureau is separate from the Advertising Standards Authority but is charged with protecting broadcasters and minimising compliance risks for advertisers by vetting TV before they are broadcast.)
So the foundation has had to find more inventive ways to get the same message across, using cut-outs, strategically positioned pot plants, balloons and cupcakes to illustrate less obvious symptoms such as redness, skin changes and changes in size, along with puckering, dimpling and nipples becoming inverted.
Make no mistake, the message is deadly serious, especially for women who have reached their late 40s. As foundation chief executive Van Henderson points out, about half of breast cancers in this country are first detected through a symptom that the woman notices.
She says that on average across New Zealand seven women are diagnosed with the disease each day, so the foundation believed its new Naked Truth campaign, showing all the signs and symptoms, far outweighed the industry watchdog's concern. "We wanted women to know exactly what those signs look like."
Ms Henderson has a compelling argument -women's lives are at risk here - and she has garnered a lot of support. Internet-based blogs and message boards have been quick to condemn the industry watchdog's ruling along with the prudishness of Kiwis. If it has done nothing else the foundation's complaints have helped increase public awareness.
So perhaps in this instance the end - even wider publicity for the campaign - justifies the means. But in the interests of accuracy it needs to be said that the oh-so-successful Scottish TV campaign was also restricted, to screenings after 9pm.
- © Fairfax NZ News