News and analysis
October 13, 2014

3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer is a multibillion-dollar industry tied with a pretty pink bow.

Companies strategically use the Mother-of-all-causes as a vital component of their marketing portfolios. Sometimes they just use the color, now so seamlessly entwined with breast cancer that it’s barely perceptible. Advertisements encourage consumers to buy pink, do pink, and think pink, all in the name of “awareness” and ending breast cancer forever.

I’d like to see the end of breast cancer and all other cancers. Who wouldn’t? I’d also like to see real awareness.

Here are just a few of the questions missing from most “awareness” campaigns that need to BE answered.

  • Do we know who profits from all those pink-ribbon products and how much of the money (if any) goes to research or to support the diagnosed?
  • Do we know how much it costs to dress the NFL (or anyone else) in pink and who it really serves?
  • Do we know whom to trust for independent, evidence-based information?

The facts are:

  • Most women diagnosed with breast cancer (75%) have no family history of the disease.
  • Women tend to overestimate their breast-cancer risk.
  • Less than one percent of women in the U.S. carries mutations on the BRCA genes.
  • Mammography screening (the most studied of any screening tool) has greater risks and fewer benefits than once believed.
  • Breast self-exams have not been shown to find tumors early or to reduce breast-cancer deaths.
  • All breast cancers do not follow a neat, linear progression as disease stages (0, 1, 2, 3, 4) seem to imply.
  • People who have positive attitudes die at the same rates as people who don’t.
  • Persistent organic chemicals ubiquitous in the environment and everyday products produce adverse health effects, like infertility and cancers.
  • Estrogen and ionizing radiation are both carcinogens.

After studying breast-cancer culture and industry for almost 15 years, I see a one-size-fits-all approach to breast cancer, misinformation posing as evidence, festivity standing in for support, branding used to corner the disease market, and trivialization of a disease that mistreats and kills far too many women, and men.

Let’s move on already. It’s time to get real about breast cancer.

Gayle Sulik Ph.D. is a medical sociologist, author of “Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health,” and founder of the Breast Cancer Consortium.