The Corporate Pink of Breast Cancer

I’m glad to see the mainstream media finally giving some attention to the question of whether all these pink ribbons are actually helping the breast cancer cause. The New York Times gave serious ink space to the issue, although largely missed the point, with “The Pinking of America” by Natasha Singer last month. And Friday, Forbes posted this comprehensive piece by Amy Westervelt, “The Pinkwashing Debate: Empty Criticism or Serious Liability?”

Serious liability, I say! (and thanks to Amy for quoting me in the story). As I wrote in the comments, I was dismayed to read that Elizabeth Thompson, president of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, thinks environmental links to cancer are based not on evidence but on “beliefs and emotion.” Ms. Thompson should take a look at the 2007 study commissioned by her own organization with the Silent Spring Institute, which identified 216 chemicals that cause breast cancer in animals that are widely detected in human tissues and in environments, like the home, where women spend time.

Because exposure to these chemicals is so widespread, “the public health impacts of reducing exposure would be profound even if the true relative risks are modest,” the researchers wrote. “If even a small percentage is due to preventable environmental factors, modifying these factors would spare thousands of women.”

I would also suggest Ms. Thompson take a look at the President’s Cancer Panel report of 2010, which states that the “true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated” and calls for immediate action to reduce carcinogens in the environment.  Also on the reading list should be the Breast Cancer Fund’s State of the Evidence report, which documents hundreds of studies linking chemical exposures and radiation to increased breast cancer risk.

Unfortunately, the big breast cancer charities seem to have taken on the mentality of the corporations that fund them — growth for the sake of growth, whatever it takes. The original intent of the pink ribbon as an advocacy tool has long been buried in an avalanche of marketing hype to sell products and goodwill for corporations that are contributing to the problem by selling unhealthy products and/or putting carcinogens into the environment and our bodies.

What do you think? Is there no such thing as too much pink (as Nancy Brinker told the NYT)? Or is it time to pressure Susan G. Komen for the Cure and other big cancer charities to stop partnering with corporations that are part of the problem and start talking seriously about prevention?

I’d love to hear your comments…

More must-read coverage:
Sacramento Bee: “Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red,” by Francesca Lyman
Nancy Brinker’s response: “Too Much Pink? Not while breast cancer still kills”
Marie Claire: “The Big Business of Breast Cancer” by Lea Goldman
Forbes: “Pinkwashing: Corporate Sponsored Cancer,” by Mia Davis, Amy Lubitow
Deseret News: “Are all the pink ribbons helping to cure cancer?” by Sarah Gamble

  • Judy Griffin

    Great article. I couldn’t agree more. Like Breast Cancer Action & some others, the only partnering should be with corporations that don’t cause, aren’t linked to, and don’t profit from Breast Cancer.  Two organizations that I support are BCA  & Breast Cancer Choices.

  • Lana

    I have felt this way for a long time. Although finding a cure is a noble cause, in my opinion a even better cause is prevention. Education about what we put into and on our bodies makes more sense. But then again the big corporations wouldn’t make as much money.

  • Char

    Stop it with the pink ribbons already! They do nothing to help the funding of a PREVENTATIVE VACCINE for breast cancer! Instead, give your support donations to someone who HAS the vaccine and is trying to get it to clinical study! Support The Pink Vaccine and it’s foundation. It will help all women so they never have to worry about getting breast cancer in the first place. PROVEN!
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