Susan Love on the Impact of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and Why Breast Cancer Should Focus on Breasts

By Christine Cupaiuolo — October 27, 2011

Susan Love, the well-known breast cancer researcher and women’s health advocate, was a 23-year-old medical student when the first edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was published, but the book’s impact was instant and permanent.

“It completely revolutionized how I and really the whole world looked at women’s health,” she said during an exclusive web-only interview with NBC Nightly News, which earlier this week broadcast a report on the 40th anniversary of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and the new 2011 edition. (Also see the web-only interview with OBOS co-founder Judy Norsigian.)

Women were treated as “small men who have babies,” says Love, noting there was no effort made to understand how women’s bodies or brains might be different than men’s. “Men were the model, and women were sort of this extra thing.”

“Our Bodies, Ourselves” put forth the radical notion that women are worthy of study. Love recalls seeing the map of the cervix in the first edition of and thinking, “It was amazing, it was a miraculous thing! Who knew what was in there?”

Fast forward 40 years, and Love is still considering the differences between women and men in her medical research. While most of the medical community studying breast cancer is focused on cancer cells, Love focuses on the breast itself.

“Believe it or not, all these years after ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves,’ we know all the molecular biology of breast cancer. But we still don’t know how many holes are in the nipple that milk comes out of,” said Love. “We still don’t know the anatomy of the breast. We still don’t know what the breast is doing when it’s not making milk. So we still need ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ in our lives.”

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