Is Any Awareness Good Awareness?

According to an article in The Vindicator by Kristine Gill, Susan G. Komen for the Cure stands firm that there is not enough pink. Carrie Glasscock, manager of corporate relations, states:

“There’s not enough pink when every 69 seconds a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer around the world. Women are still dying from this disease.”

Similarly, a representative from the American Cancer Society, Al Stabilito, said about awareness messages:

“Whatever clever way they want to come up with as long as it’s in good taste. The American Cancer Society encourages people to spread the message.”

Both Komen and the American Cancer Society are strong proponents of “awareness.” But, is any awareness good awareness? Good taste is clearly in the eye of the beholder when anything from hand guns to high heels can be stamped with a pink ribbon in the name of awareness. What is it that people are becoming aware of with “I love boobies” bracelets, barbie dolls, and facebook memes?

The idea of awareness is a good thing. There are always cases of individuals who, after hearing a story about breast cancer or participating in a community event, took a moment to do a breast self exam or visit their doctor for an overdue appointment. Beyond the individual case, it is also in the interest of society to have an informed populace that is empowered and attentive to the well being of their communities. How informed are we about breast cancer?

  • Do people know that only 30% of those diagnosed with breast cancer have any of the known risk factors, and 70% do not?
  • That the probability that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime is only 1 in 204 at the age of 39?
  • That almost 2000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year?
  • That 77% of breast cancer cases fall into the life threatening (invasive) category, and 23% do not, and that doctors and researchers are questioning whether these conditions should be called cancers?
  • That breast cancer recurs about one-third of the time for those diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and 40% of women in this category still die after 20 years?
  • That mammograms miss 25 to 40 percent of tumors that are cancerous?
  • That a large pharmaceutical corporation sponsors National Breast Cancer Awareness Month?
  • That oncology drugs represent the largest share of the global drug market and sales are projected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 12-15%, reaching $75-$80 billion by 2012.
  • That some of the products sold with pink ribbons on them actually contribute to breast cancer?

The Vindy article goes on to say that I [Gayle Sulik] see “a huge disconnect between pink products women can buy, which range from clothing to KFC chicken, and the message advocacy groups are trying to promote.” That’s true. It is disconnected. While we walk, run, and shop for the cause, the cure remains a distant and imaginary dream.

Arguing that incremental progress is not good enough, the National Breast Cancer Coalition has given up on hope and awareness. I have too. As individuals, we need to have hope. But as a society, we cannot rely on hope to cure breast cancer. We need concerted and collaborative action that is based on all the knowledge we have, and all the brains we can borrow. We need truth in advertising, not sunglasses and shoes. We need to hold on to what works and throw away what doesn’t. We need to look to the ribbon for inspiration and then look to the evidence for direction.

“Keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” – Dinah Craik, A Life for a Life, 1859

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“Pink Ribbon Blues”

Paperback includes a new Introduction on fundraising controversies and a color insert with images of, and reactions to, the pinking of breast cancer (2012).

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"Seeing clearly through the pink haze" Toronto Sun

*Sad face*: Being happy does not help you live longer" New Scientist

How should we address breast cancer when norms continually change? The Guardian

Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients Broadly

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Komen Charity Under Microscope for Funding, Science Reuters

The Fight Against Cancer - And Abortion?

Susan G. Komen For the Cure defunds Planned Parenthood. In Deep with Angie Coiro

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The Big Business of Breast Cancer
Marie Claire

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