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The pink-washing of breast cancer

We're awash in pink stuff for breast cancer 'awareness,' but does it do any good?

By Anne Hurley May 1, 2013 10:12PM

Breast cancer continues to wreak havoc and take lives, though early detection and treatment options have improved patients' survival rates. And it's impossible to miss the sea of pink items -- from T-shirts to SodaStream machines to football cleats that are meant to help fund research, experimental testing, and treatment for patients. You can barely get through October, the official Breast Cancer Awareness month, without feeling like you're swimming upstream through Pepto-Bismol. But the question is: Does buying all that pink stuff actually do any good?

The answer is elusive. A recent story in The New York Times decries the "feel-good war on breast cancer," suggesting that all that pink stuff is infantilizing and obscures the real issues at hand. And of course, it plays into the American consumerism habit by encouraging people to, well, buy more pink stuff.

To be fair, those who "buy pink" seem to truly want to do the right thing, and hope a good chunk of the purchase price of a pink item will in fact go to the American Cancer Society, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, or other reputable research and treatment organizations. But it can be very hard to track down how much money actually goes somewhere useful.

Not only that, chimes in Veronica Bayetti Flores in Salon, the flood of pink stuff -- especially plastic pink stuff -- may well be creating toxins in its production -- or maybe even carrying carcinogens in the items themselves. Flores also points out that the pink movement avoids the toughest questions around breast cancer:

"This is not even to mention these initiatives’ silence around disparities in mortality from breast cancer -- black women have higher death rates despite a lower incidence, for example -- and what are likely the root causes of these disparities: issues like lack of access to health care, or low-income folks and communities of color disproportionately living near sites with high levels of carcinogens."

A no-nonsense group called Breast Cancer Action suggests that you "Think Before You Pink," meaning do your homework and research where your money goes if you buy something that "supports breast cancer."

None of which is intended to rain on anyone's good intentions. But maybe the better way to go would be to donate money directly to research organizations -- and to do whatever you can at your local level to ensure overall health care for all women. Which really could get us all "in the pink."

Read more about breast cancer

May 2, 2013 3:16AM
When my wife went through breast cancer a little over a year ago, she went on the  pink frenzy.  I decided to do a little research into the Komen foundation to see what I could find out about their efforts to "find a cure".....what I discovered was a very well oiled marketing/money making machine that pays their to execs a TON of high $$ salaries and a very small percentage ( think it was below 10% ) of their revenue actually going to cancer research.

Needless to say.......we are not pink fans anymore.....
May 2, 2013 1:36AM

Donating directly rather than buying merchandise is pretty much the way to go with all charities if you're just interested in contributing. Not really a revelation here

May 2, 2013 1:46AM
What percentage does Susan G Komen donate to fund cancer research?
May 2, 2013 2:11AM
I have long felt these symbolic trends are not only useless, but rather stupid. I understand they are intended to bring attention to an issue (like the men hobbling along in high heels to call attention to abused women), but what good does it do? Abolutely none. If one wants to help, donate directly to a cause or volunteer in a women's shelter. Do something constructive.
May 2, 2013 2:08AM
Prefer to  make my donation directly to the Cancer Society in the names of those who our family has lost to the disease, since the whole amount goes to them, rather than a percentage being donated because of my purchase.
May 2, 2013 2:06AM
Trying to make the American public knowledgeable. Impossible...
May 2, 2013 3:18AM
PEOPLE, the medical professionals will NEVER CURE CANCER...If they do they not have a job anymore and there will be many people out of work.. CANCERS WILL NEVER BE CURED in AMERICA, it will put too many people out of work....It's a SCAM by the Medical Departments in America.
All your donations go to Pharmaceutical and Medical Departments to invent medicines not CURES...Think about it, No DISEASES have ever been cured for 50 years....And they NEVER will.

May 2, 2013 1:34AM
so answer the question. does it do any good?
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