“Breast cancer awareness,” critics charge, has become a sort of feel-good catchall, associated with screening and early detection, and the ubiquitous pink a marketing opportunity for companies of all types. For all the awareness, they note, breast cancer incidence has been nearly flat and there still is no cure for women whose cancer has spread beyond the breast to other organs, like the liver or bones.
“What do we have to show for the billions spent on pink ribbon products?” asked Karuna Jaggar, the executive director of Breast Cancer Action, an activist group whose slogan is “Think before you pink.”
She concluded: “A lot of us are done with awareness. We want action.”
Some broader women’s health groups agree. “The pinkification of the month of October, from football cleats to coffee cups, isn’t helping women,” said Cindy Pearson, the executive director of the National Women’s Health Network, an advocacy organization.
Such questions and skepticism come as some organizations are dialing back recommendations for the very screening measures the campaigns promote, recognizing that mammograms can lead to harm like overdiagnosis — finding and treating cancers that would never have become life-threatening — and false-positive results.
Others are starting to refine their message. On Oct. 2, the start of this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the National Breast Cancer Coalition, a nonprofit group representing breast cancer groups across the country, put out a news release calling for “action, not awareness,” and for channeling billions of dollars that pay for awareness campaigns toward research instead.