The Dark Side of Pink Awareness

Note from Breast Cancer Action: In response to last week’s blog post from Angela Wall, several of our members commented on our Facebook page and shared their thoughts about the efficacy of breast cancer awareness campaigns. Rachel, a BCAction member & breast cancer activist who blogs at The Cancer Culture Chronicles noted that women with metastatic breast cancer, in particular, have not benefited from the “pink razzamatazz”. We are honored to share her words with more of our members via this week’s blog post.


The color pink and the pink ribbon have become the ubiquitous and saleable trademarks of breast cancer awareness and the associated pink fundraising machine.

Through canny marketing, cutesy slogans, pink imagery, and campaign after campaign, we hear the pink awareness messages loud and clear.

Early detection saves lives.

Education saves lives.

Pink ribbons save lives.


But what is breast cancer awareness?

According to Wikipedia, breast cancer awareness is defined as

“an effort to raise awareness of breast cancer and reduce the disease’s stigma by educating people about its symptoms and treatment options. Supporters hope that greater knowledge will lead to earlier detection of breast cancer, which is associated with higher long-term survival rates, and that money raised for breast cancer will produce a reliable, permanent cure.”

Is this the definition of breast cancer awareness the public learns about through pink ribbon awareness campaigns? Recently whilst participating in online discussions about various aspects of breast cancer culture, I learned what some members of the public have become  aware of, such as that;

• breast cancer is “technically curable” or “completely survivable”;

• we need to use humor, sexy slogans or cute pink imagery in order to “ease the pressure” of cancer and “capture the public’s attention”;

• no one wants to hear that breast cancer is scary;

• we “should be grateful for how far breast cancer has come”;

• to experience a breast cancer diagnosis is somehow “lucky” because it’s the “good” kind of cancer;

• the breast cancer movement is the “envy of other cancer sufferers”.

Is this what pink awareness has brought us?  Has the pink marketing juggernaut been so effective that people now truly believe that the billions of dollars raised have elevated breast cancer to the rank and file of a less serious curable disease?

From my vantage point, as a person with incurable stage IV metastatic breast cancer, this disease is still a frightening deadly beast, and the fight is far from over.  Short of a miracle, or some other run of bad luck, I will die from breast cancer. I certainly don’t feel “lucky” or that anyone need be “envious” of me for having the “good” kind of cancer, and I’d wager theestimated 150,000 people living with metastatic breast cancer in the United States feel the same way.

If the general public really thinks that breast cancer is ‘technically curable’, open to humorous marketing, and the envy of others, then the pink awareness machine has failed miserably not only for those who are at risk for breast cancer and facing breast cancer but also for those who have inconveniently died from the disease.

The names of the dead are written on t-shirts at all those pink fundraising walks and races. Candles are lit and solemn moments of silence are observed.  Faces of the dead are memorialized on virtual pink buckets of fried chicken, or some other improbable pink product placement. All in the name of breast cancer awareness and raising money for the noble cause.

The pink awareness machine, by its symbolically emotional gestures, seems to convey that it cares about the forty thousand or so women and hundreds of men who lose their lives to breast cancer every year.

But does it really care?

Did you know that this nation’s largest breast cancer fundraising organization, which was largely responsible for the instigation and rise of the pink awareness machine, contributed less than 19% of its total resources to actual breast cancer research in 2010?

Did you know that metastatic breast cancer, which accounts for around 90% of breast cancer mortality, receives less than 2% of all monies directed to cancer research?

Does it seem possible that the pink awareness machine has done such a good job of selling the premise that breast cancer is a “survivable” disease, that society continues to mistakenly pour money into more “awareness”, “education” and “early detection”, unaware that it is doing so at the expense of potentially life-saving research? And in turn, blithely unaware that none of this pink awareness is helping to move the fight forward to breast cancer eradication or indeed a cure?

This is one of the terrible ironies of all this pink awareness.

Women and men with Stage IV breast cancer are not the happy-happy-joy-joy-Sheroic survivor stories portrayed in the popular pink culture.  As a community we continue to fight; not only for our lives, but for official recognition by a mainstream breast cancer movement caught in a dangerous rut of pink unawareness. We are tired of our deaths being used by marketers to sell emotionally charged displays of pink, designed to generate both fundraising dollars and profits. Fundraising that the metastatic breast cancer community continues NOT to benefit from.

Breast Cancer AWARENESS? I think not.


For more information on metastatic breast cancer, check out the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network for advocacy and support, and Metavivor for research funding, news and initiatives.

Following a career spanning fifteen years in public accounting and tax consulting, Rachel is now a full-time blogger. In her main blog, The Cancer Culture Chronicles, Rachel writes about her personal experiences as a woman living with metastatic breast cancer, her observations of the surrounding breast cancer culture, as well as other important issues relevant to the breast cancer community. She also writes a magazine-style women’s interest blog at Can-Do Women. Hailing from Australia originally, Rachel holds an Australian Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, and Masters’ degrees in Business Administration and Science from an American university. She is forty-one years old and lives in coastal New Jersey with her husband and small dog.

This entry was posted in BCA News.

4 Responses to The Dark Side of Pink Awareness

  • Brenda P, says:

    I’m glad that someone is taking a stand! I for one was just diagnosed w/BC in Feb & found that the pink ribbons were not a symbol I wanted to be associated with, just because I don’t think the monies were distributed appropriately. When you raise for a cause the cause should get at least 75% of money! Brenda-Houston,TX

  • gloria p says:

    I was unaware of these facts. I am so glad a friend shared your website with me. My 24 yr old daughter was recently dxed with metastatic breast cancer, stage 4, in the bone, liver, spleen, and has done significant damage to her spine.

    • Joan says:

      I know that most fundraising groups do not give 100% of the funds contributed to their cause, but I did not know so little was given by the pink ribbon. The only thing I can say in a positive nature is that the pink ribbon has made us all aware of the amount of women with breast cancer. And that means more support in anyway. However, if these facts are true and the percentages are correct I would not want to connect myself with this group.
      Then the question is, what do we do!!!?

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