National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) was established in 1985 by the American Cancer Society with funding from the subsidiary of one of the world’s largest multinational chemical corporations, Zeneca Group plc (of Imperial Chemical Industries.) Zeneca later merged with pharmaceutical giant Astra AB to become AstraZeneca, one of the wealthiest members of the breast cancer industry through the development and sale of oncology drugs.

Well-known public figure and breast cancer survivor Betty Ford and her daughter agreed to be NBCAM spokespersons and helped to kick off the first week-long event with an emotional televised appeal. Claiming to “fill the information void,” NBCAM’s mission was to educate and empower women to “take charge of their breast health.” The program narrowly defines this undertaking as “practicing regular self-breast exams…scheduling regular visits and annual mammograms with their healthcare provider, adhering to prescribed treatment, and knowing the facts about recurrence.

NBCAM soon became a year-long series of educational and fundraising activities culminating in October. It consists of “the creation and distribution of promotional materials, brochures, advertisements, public service spots, and other educational aids.” In addition to advertising, there is free exposure through word of mouth, clinical promotion, workplace and community initiatives, and political representatives.

During the 1993 NBCAM, President Clinton proclaimed the third Friday in October to be “National Mammography Day,” encouraging companies, clinics, and radiologists to provide free or discounted screening on that special day. After mammography was incorporated into insurance coverage and state and federal programs, mammography screening itself would virtually guarantee continued investment in the Cause.

NBCAM gave breast cancer a regularly occurring timeline for public outreach and Cause promotion and has functioned as a platform for a variety of activities, products, and services related to breast cancer and mammography screening.


Criticisms

  • Now with numerous collaborating partners, NBCAM has become little more than a marketing platform and pink ribbon shop, with “part of each sale going toward breast cancer education.” How much of the proceeds are used for that purpose and what that education entails, is unspecified.
  • Although the American Cancer Society has acknowledged the limitations of screening mammography and no longer promotes breast self exam, the NBCAM platform it administers fails to acknowledge or address these changes in protocols. The official website for NBCAM used to provide some information about diagnosis and treatment. Trying to stay out of the fray of mounting criticisms regarding the cancer industry and the role of the some organizations in maintaining the status quo, the current website provides no information at all.
  • AstraZeneca still underwrites NBCAM despite the inherent conflict of interest in sponsoring awareness programs while profiting from breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and/or contributing to a carcinogenic environment.
  • National Breast Cancer Awareness Month captures the essence of femininity in breast cancer culture. It’s public service announcement in 2010 had a claymation dancing pink ribbon with a smiling face, lipstick, and a get-up-and-go attitude, showing that a “true woman” can fight breast cancer and win.

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