Inflammatory Breast Cancer: Viral Marketing Spreads the Word

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • A special report by TV station KOMO of Seattle, Washington, on May 7, 2006, has generated an incredible amount of publicity for IBC, inflammatory breast cancer. And that’s a very good thing: this rare form of aggressive breast cancer is often quite advanced by the time it’s diagnosed, simply because most women don’t recognize its symptoms.

    The report, whose inspiration was a Redmond, Washington mother spreading the word about IBC on behalf of her dying daughter, was originally seen only by viewers in western Washington, or those with Internet access. But since then, over 20 million people have downloaded the print story from, making it the most downloaded story in the station’s history.
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    How did this happen? Via the human grapevine, known these days as viral or WOM (word of mouth) marketing. The story, with its focus on inflammatory breast cancer as “the silent killer,” provoked a barrage of e-mail alerts, as friend forwarded to friend forwarded to friend. And fast as a George Bush joke, millions of women suddenly knew about IBC, which accounts for about five percent of all breast cancers in women. Here’s a copy of a typical forwarded e-mail, with its embedded link to a video of the KOMO special report:

    The silent killer - IBC - Inflammatory Breast Cancer (no lump for
    PLEASE, click the attached link (or paste in browser) and take the time To View the attached link!
    Send this to every woman you know!

    We’ve all received frantic e-mails like this, right? Alerts about computer viruses, identity theft, or the mastectomy bill in Congress (which I received for about the 129,000th time again today).

    Sometimes it’s hard to know whether to believe all this stuff you get; in fact, the friend who forwarded me the mastectomy e-mail asked if I knew whether it was true (it is). This particular IBC e-mail was forwarded so many times it earned a spot on, the site that lets readers know whether a particular story making the rounds is truth or fiction. (e.g., “Unpatriotic activities at Dunkin Donuts,” truth or fiction? Fiction. Phew! I was starting to feel guilty about my morning cup of toasted almond iced coffee.) Combine that with the fact that searching “IBC breast cancer” on Google brings up the KOMO report as the seventh entry on the page (out of 142,000 results), and you’ve got a perfect storm, Internet-style: instant mass communication.

    KOMO’s report, and its subsequent publicity, earned the station a regional Emmy award for community service. It also inspired the New Mexico state legislature to pledge $3 million to IBC research, after lawmakers there saw the KOMO story and heard from Patti Bradfield, the Redmond mother who’s become America’s most famous advocate for IBC research funding. In part because of Bradfield’s efforts, and partially due to the tidal wave of phone calls received after the KOMO story, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, one of the nation’s leading cancer hospitals and research facilities, decided to create an IBC clinic last November, the country’s first. And suddenly, “the silent killer” is no longer so silent: IBC has been exposed, in all its chilling reality. Thanks to one determined mother, a small TV station, and the Internet.
Published On: July 09, 2007