Roll out the pink ribbons, it’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. About 12 percent women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime, and about 3 percent of women will die from the disease.
The Society’s estimates for breast cancer in the U.S. in 2013 are as follows: About 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women; about 64,640 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer); and about 39,620 women will die from breast cancer.
NBCAM was founded in 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of Imperial Chemical Industries to promote mammography as the most effective weapon in the fight against breast cancer. Many credit this campaign for raising much-needed awareness of this devastating disease, helping to raise money for research, and improving survival rates through early detection.
The campaign is not without its critics, however.
The breast cancer advocacy organization, Breast Cancer Action, criticizes National Breast Cancer Awareness Month as Breast Cancer Industry Month, because some corporate sponsors benefit financially from increased screening for breast cancer, or produce carcinogenic chemicals. Other criticisms center on the marketing of "pink products" and tie-ins, citing that more money is spent marketing these campaigns than is donated to the cause.
That’s why the organization launched its "Think Before You Pink" campaign in 2002 to encourage consumers to ask critical questions before buying pink ribbon products.
BCAction also says this "pinkwashing" public relations campaign avoids discussion of the causes and prevention of breast cancer and instead focuses on "awareness" as a way to encourage women to get their mammograms.
Early detection is important, to be sure, as it improves a woman’s chances of surviving the disease, but the pink campaign does not do enough to address metastatic breast cancer (when the cancer spreads through the bloodstream to other parts of the body and becomes much more deadly). That was one of the main arguments of Rachel Cheethan Moro, author of the American website The Cancer Culture Chronicles, who had stage IV metastatic breast cancer and died in 2012.
In 2011 Moro wrote, "Do you know that, in the USA, metastatic breast cancer, which accounts for around 90 percent of breast cancer mortality, receives less than 2 percent of the monies directed to cancer research."
And earlier this year Jude Callirgo, herself suffering from breast cancer and author of "Breast Left Unsaid," wrote in the Huffington Post that the Susan G. Komen Foundation has angered its critics by "focusing more heavily on early detection and awareness programs, at the expense of the metastatic community." By doing this, it "helped boost its brand and fill coffers but did little to further its stated mission of finding a cure. ... It also helped keep their marketing images pink, healthy and winning; as opposed to sick, pale and dying."
Those criticisms notwithstanding, there’s no denying that the Breast Cancer Awareness campaign has been effective in saving lives. According to the American Cancer Society, death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1989, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. These decreases are believed to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment. So clearly the pink campaign has been successful to some degree.
Hopefully the growing movement to bring more attention to metastatic breast cancer, and more money devoted to finding a cure once and for all, will save even more lives.
-- Brattleboro Reformer