Without doubt, pink is the leading ribbon in the coloured box of cancer. This feminine shade has invaded screens, billboards, social media and even our lives. With its overrated pink campaigns, breast cancer awareness has subdued other shades – other cancers that demand equal attention and visibility.
Granted breast cancer is the most common cancer in women affecting an estimated 252,710 each year, it is still far from the deadliest with 40,610 estimated deaths as compared to lung cancer that ranks right at the top with 155,870 deaths and 222,500 new cases every year.
While the pink initiative has raised tremendous value pushing for increased screening and funding for research on breast cancer, it is in danger of skewing cancer awareness charts. According to the Cancer Statistics Review, more people are diagnosed with prostate cancer than breast cancer, and more people die from lung cancer and colon, rectal, or anal cancers, than breast cancer.
Health practitioners and patients feel it is time to bring perspective to the overrated pink ribbon, urging for a more objective prioritising of other cancers.
Tamlyn Oliver, managing editor for Biocompare, a life science media company based in San Francisco, who is diagnosed with colorectal cancer, said, “When I told family and friends about my diagnosis, many didn’t know what colorectal cancer was, let alone that it was a leading cause of cancer deaths. When I was being treated — losing my hair and sporting a chemotherapy-related pallor — I was often asked if I had breast cancer and if I was going to lose my breasts. I lost a sizable chunk of my colon, but no one ever asked about that.”
Pink may hurt more than it healsCome every October, the stores will be filled with pink products and pink ribbons, creating breast cancer awareness. While companies rake in the dollars and consumers score high on the altruistic scale, research suggests that too much pink is a failure.
Researchers Stefano Puntoni and his colleagues of Rotterdam School of Management found that pink decreased both the willingness to fund research and the seriousness with which women took the disease.
Puntoni explained that when people are faced with a personal threat, they tend to subconsciously go on the defensive. They try to push away the idea both that they’re vulnerable and that breast cancer is something they, or anyone, needs to worry about.
This raises doubts on the move to merge health care concerns with marketing.
According to a new USA Today/Gallup Poll, 84% buy pink, breast-cancer tie-in products; while, 70% have donated money, and 46% have participated in fundraising events.
In the same poll, one in three says the intense focus on breast cancer overshadows other worthy causes. Many have accused companies of “pink washing” and profiting, when there is little correlation between the cause and the products themselves. In fact, some corporations may sell products that might actually be linked to cancer.
The "Think Before You Pink" campaign is set on the stint in the pink, and targets alcohol companies that urge people to "pink their drink" because, they say, these drinks may compound the breast cancer problem. Alcohol has been linked to breast cancer in several studies, and the Canadian Cancer Society says even one drink a day on average can increase the risk of breast cancer.
Samantha King, an associate professor of physical and health education and women's studies at Queen's University, in Kingston, Ontario, said she sees plenty of example of “pinkwashing” but the most mind-boggling pink-ribbon tie-in is a handgun sold in the US that features a bubble-gum pink grip. Its manufacturer has pledged a portion of proceeds to breast cancer awareness.
"So, they're saving lives by taking lives?" asked King.
A call to review pink strategiesPink signifies hope, faith and courage for the one who has to live with breast cancer. But is this hope losing its grip when instead of inspiring hope in patients, it has made one choose to sit back and accept their fate?
If the aim is to generate greater awareness that will cause people to take breast cancer seriously and heed early warning signs, then it is time to make shifts in the pink strategies.
Like one breast cancer survivor puts it, “Has pink become more like background noise than the original cry for help?”
Putting aside campaign months, products and ribbons, all awareness initiatives must be translated into tangible outcomes, which see increased familiarity with disease symptoms and the emergence of proactive and better-informed patients.
Ultimately, whether you love it or hate it, pink should not shroud the other equally dangerous cancers that deserve the same amount of recognition and attention from all of us. MIMS
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