The Business of Breast Cancer

Every 23 seconds, somebody in the world is diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s a fairly common disease, but so are diabetes and heart diseases. What makes breast cancer different from the rest is the curious culture that surrounds it – awareness campaigns, pink products, monument lighting and fundraising events of extreme proportions.

October is the official breast cancer awareness month. People, who want to give their support to patients and alarm potential ones, participate in all sorts of activities from marathons and walks to skydiving and horse jumping. This is a very noble tradition that we have developed, however, while we’re sporting our pink attire and enjoying the celebratory atmosphere, we fail to notice that there is something malicious going on in the background.

How to Sell a Breast Cancer?

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the Avon Foundation for Women are one of the most heavily funded breast cancer nonprofits in the USA. They were the initiators of the breast cancer culture that we have today, bringing large masses of people together to act for a cause.

It didn’t take long before corporations found a way to profit off of this disease and quickly turned to cause marketing – allying with a cause to gain consumers. A company would put a pink ribbon on the product and say that a certain amount of the price you pay would be donated for breast cancer research. This strategy has proven to be very successful, mostly because when given a choice between two similar products, the buyer is more likely to pick the one that supports a good cause. With this comes a feeling of accomplishment that the buyer, too, contributes to the cause.

Since being female is the greatest risk factor for developing breast cancer, most of the cause-marketed products were targeted at women, especially in the beauty industry. This eventually created an opportunity for other industries to jump on the bandwagon that led to what we have today – ridiculous products like breast cancer teddy bears, vacuum cleaners, even cars. Well, at least they are doing something, right?

Regrettably, their contribution is insignificant compared to their gain.

Pinkwashing a Disease

The most despicable part about this are companies that sell products, which are likely to cause breast cancer, yet they want you to buy them so they can donate a portion of your money to breast cancer research. First on this list is a well-known company called Estée Lauder.

In 1992, Charlotte Hayley handmade salmon colored ribbons and shared them with the goal of bringing attention to how little resources are put into breast cancer prevention. Not so long after, Estée Lauder and the Self magazine reached out to Hayley for her consent to use the ribbon on the issue they were collaborating on. Because Hayley denied their offer, they simply changed the peach color to pink, and this is how it became a global symbol for breast cancer awareness.

Although the company has raised over $65 million, the products through which they managed this feat have been found to contain chemicals that are hormone disruptive or carcinogenic.

The list of companies who abused the breast cancer movement to place their harmful products on the market is pretty long, and it involves names like KFC, Ford, Campbell Soup, even pharmaceutical and alcohol companies – oh the irony!

What about the Research?

How come we always know exactly how much money a company raised for research, and yet we never hear what came out of that research? Or is it our job to just hand over the money to the big guys because they know what to do with it?

The truth is that a lot of effort has been put into the cause, whereas minimal positive results have been accomplished.

The problem with breast cancer research is that it’s largely uncoordinated, meaning that different research groups could be doing the same work, without knowing. This puts millions of dollars down the drain that could have been used at various ends.

What’s even more disturbing is that only 15% of the money is spent on prevention research and an even smaller amount of 5% is devoted to environmental causes of breast cancer. Environmental causes, such as petrochemicals, pesticides, and plastics, are heavily neglected even though they have previously been linked to cancer. Most of the research funds are directed towards putting out a marketable product – different drugs that increase life expectancy in breast cancer patients, instead of looking to find why breast cancer is developed in the first place.

As consumers, the best thing we can do is ask questions before buying a pink product and think whether the company is abusing our will to help each other. Remember, sometimes it’s more efficient to directly donate to a cause instead of buying cause marketed products that you may not even need.

About Martina Blazheska

Martina is a mechanical engineering student from Skopje, Macedonia. When she’s not drowning in homework, she likes to write articles. Her favorite things to write about are feminism, social justice, science, ecology and travel. Martina is fascinated with the influence of social media and hopes that her words can make a difference, no matter how big or small.

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