Editorial: Breast cancer awareness needs to change


by Emily Parker, Special to The Simpsonian

Breast cancer awareness in the United States disrespects patients and discredits the disease’s impact on families through disingenuous marketing efforts.

Breast cancer is oversexualized, and many companies exploit the recognizable pink ribbon for profits.

With every October that passes, I reflect on the effect breast cancer had on my childhood and the impact it has on my family today.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 10 years old. Thankfully, my mom caught the tumor early and underwent surgeries and chemotherapy to prevent the cancer from recurring.

Thanks to her knowledge of the lifesaving habit of self-examination, my mom can still walk through life with me. I am one of the lucky ones.

According to Susan G. Komen, a nonprofit breast cancer organization, “One in 8 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.” This serious disease affects hundreds of thousands of lives and families each year.

As someone who has experienced how breast cancer affects a woman and her family, methods of breast cancer awareness in this country irritate me. Breast cancer awareness in this country commercializes and sexualizes the disease, exploiting the patients behind the diagnoses.

It’s about the women, not their breasts.

This disease causes such pain and devastation, yet people treat it as something sexual and superficial. Why do some treat it so lightly?

Attempts to create humorous merchandise surrounding breast cancer (i.e. I Heart Boobies, Keep A Breast) do not amuse me. They cheapen a diagnosis that means so much more than the risk of losing a pair of breasts.

Women cope with something so deeply personal and life threatening, and masking the raw, personal reality of the disease by using derogatory terms is just wrong. I have no respect for people who use degrading language toward cancer to seem funny.

While that type of publicity has opened up communication about the once-taboo subject, companies have commercialized breast cancer, exploiting patients for monetary gain.
We need a classy, respectful way to inform people of the real dangers associated with this diagnosis.

My mom knew that self-examination leads to early detection, which greatly increases chances of survival. If campaigns for breast cancer awareness featured valuable, lifesaving information such as that, maybe our country would have a clearer understanding of this disease’s severity and how to prevent such tragedy from striking our loved ones.

Another practice that angers me is “pinkwashing.” Throughout October, breast cancer awareness month, pink ribbons can be spotted on product labels in grocery stores everywhere.

According to Think Before You Pink, a campaign encouraging consumers to think before supporting pink ribbon promotions, some companies exploit the pink ribbon to benefit from consumers’ desire to support its cause.

The proceeds from these purchases might not fund breast cancer initiatives at all, and the products might even contain harmful chemicals.

For example, consumers believed a portion of their purchase of pink ribbon clogs from Dansko supported breast cancer initiatives, but none of those sales contributed to the company’s predetermined donation.

This incident from 2010 shows that companies often entice buyers with the familiar pink ribbon in order to gain support, but their actions do not coincide with consumers’ perceptions.

Sure, many questionable marketing practices exist in business, but pinkwashing crosses a line. This deceitful and immoral tactic exploits cancer to increase a company’s profits.

Why would a company trick someone into thinking they are helping further the cause for breast cancer initiatives when it is just trying to lure customers in by using a recognizable, worthwhile cause people proudly support?

While it’s nice to know that organizations like the NFL want to raise awareness for breast cancer, bear in mind that simply wearing a specific color yields little reward for breast cancer programs.

“As it does every October, the NFL is set to ‘go pink’ this Sunday to show support for the American Cancer Society’s efforts to find a cure for breast cancer. But make no mistake: The NFL will not contribute one dime to breast-cancer research in this campaign,” Dr. Marty Makary, a surgical oncologist and contributor for the Wall Street Journal, wrote in September 2016.

Think twice before falling prey to profit-driven executives who do not have consumers’ best interests at heart.

Many programs focus on improving treatments and increasing awareness, but more people should use genuine, thoughtful approaches when referencing such a wide reaching, personally devastating disease.

Companies focus on profits and image rather than respecting patients and their families, shown through insincere marketing tactics. Let’s change perceptions of the disease by putting the focus back where it belongs: on the women behind the diagnosis.