In a report published on March 29, the Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project reported that Donald Trump's Health Department wiped breast cancer information from its website. The project's director of policy, Andrew Bergman, tweeted on Monday, "This censorship sows real doubt about health considerations for populations of vulnerable women throughout the country."
ThinkProgress reached out to the HHS for comment on the report and was told by an HHS spokesperson that the change was based on improving user experience of the website.
"The pages were removed on Dec. 6, 2017 because content was not mobile-friendly and very rarely used," the HHS spokesperson told ThinkProgress on Monday. "Before we update any of the information… we engage in a comprehensive audit and use analysis process that includes reviewing other federal consumer health websites to ensure we are not duplicating efforts or presenting redundant information." In spite of removing such critical information from its website, the HHS did not announce the change in December.
The HHS spokesperson told ThinkProgress that people should check WomensHealth.gov/cancer where the information on the subject, they say, is displayed in a much more user-friendly layout. Though the WomensHealth.gov/cancer shares information about cervical, ovarian, and uterine cancer, it does not have a separate vertical for breast cancer at all. The website mentions in the lower half of the page that it was updated on March 20 but no changes have been made to include information on breast cancer so far.
According to the Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project, the OWH only has information on mammogram breast cancer screenings left. Everything else like "informational pages and factsheets about the disease, including symptoms, treatment, risk factors, and public no or low-cost cancer screening programs" is absent from the website.
In addition to removing content on breast cancer, the OWH no longer shows breast cancer-relevant information in regards to the Affordable Care Act. The project noted in its report that the removed material included "provisions of the Affordable Care Act that require coverage of no-cost breast cancer screenings for certain women, as well as links to a free cancer screening program administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)." For women from low-income backgrounds, this information is key to finding no to low-cost breast cancer screenings.
Crucial information on breast cancer screenings is noted to be integral for spotting the disease in its early stages and treating it before it spreads and becomes fatal. Without such essential information readily available for internet users, there's a disturbing likelihood that some people could remain unaware about the common disease. For American women, that could spell havoc. As BreastCancer.org notes in its study, "invasive breast cancer" will hit 1 out of 8 American women during their lives.
Jarring as it may be to no longer see breast cancer information on the OWH website, this isn't the first time that the HHS has altered its webpages. In March, the Sunlight Foundation's Web Integrity Project also noted that critical information on health for bisexual and lesbian women had been removed from the OWH. The Hill reported that an HHS spokesperson said that the information had been moved. "You can now find lesbian and bisexual health content by searching for relevant health topics on the WomensHealth.gov website," the spokesperson said.
It's possible that the HHS is simply moving its content around into a more consolidated form. But these unannounced and unexplained layout and information changes could end up causing more confusion than clarity. And that could be disastrous. After all, when it comes to human health, lack of notice and direction is the last thing you need.