Good news? Not so fast…

Filed under blog

by Angela Wall, Communications Manager

Good news on breast cancer, says Sadie Stein writing for Jezebel.  Why?  Well, because of pink ribbon awareness campaigns more women are getting screened and diagnosed earlier.  Hold on.  Does this ring false to anyone else?

Awareness only got them to make a screening appointment to detect the cancer that was already developing.

Ordinarily, I celebrate an article that tacitly suggests that we’ve had enough pink awareness. I’d certainly celebrate the end of the pink noise and hypocrisy that accompanies breast cancer industry month because then instead of having our attention distracted by pink awareness campaigns,  we could all start addressing the real issues that increase our risk of developing breast cancer and we might actually be able to focus on reducing diagnoses rather than celebrating them.

I doubt that’s going to happen though.  There’s too much money to be made every October from slapping a pink ribbon on a product.  Plus and the feel good rewards that accompany  pink ribbons can really boost a company’s image regardless of whether or not the product being sold actually contributes to breast cancer.  Heaven forbid we make consumers aware that the products they are purchasing actually contain ingredients that might cause cancer.  Awareness apparently doesn’t need to go that far.  It’s no surprise then that awareness never prevented anyone from developing breast cancer.

Awareness campaigns have never addressed why more white women get diagnosed with breast cancer but more women of color die from it. Awareness and pink ribbon campaigns have only ever distracted us. Awareness campaigns don’t demand we demand tighter state and federal regulations around the manufacturing and production of cancer causing chemicals or their being included as “ingredients” in the products we use to clean our homes.
I’ve never seen anything to celebrate about breast cancer and I certainly get deeply troubled by the idea that we might have done enough simply because people are being screened more regularly even though more cancer is being detected.  Surely, screening rates are only to be celebrated when fewer people receive a cancer diagnosis.

I would agree that awareness has served its purpose. Now it’s time to demand that chemical corporations stop manufacturing products known to cause cancer.  I would celebrate if Eli Lilly announced that they were stopping production of their cancer-linked recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which contaminates a third of US dairy products.  I would celebrate if the FDA declared that rather than meeting with Roche Pharmaceuticals to reconsider approving Avastin as a treatment for metastatic breast cancer (despite evidence demonstrating that it doesn’t work), they refined their approval guidelines and insisted that treatments cost less, do more than existing options, and improve the quality of life of women with breast cancer who take them.  So I think I’ll hold off on my celebrating if nobody minds until the studies start to show real systemic changes are reducing breast cancer diagnoses over the long term.


  1. Suzanne Pluta
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    You are so right on. Well said.

  2. Posted April 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Terrific post. Mammography isn’t screening or prevention; it’s to diagnose whether or not you have cancer. Keep up the conversation.

  3. Posted April 18, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Well said, Angela. I’d love to republish this on Pink Ribbon Blues!

  4. Posted April 18, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    As I keep saying “awareness” might get you diagnosed, but it’s no guarantee that a person will be able to access quality care or treatment, or that a person will even live to tell the tale. So a person gets diagnosed. Then what????? And why are people getting diagnosed at rates that are now again on the increase? There are so many issues that we’re still very UNaware of.

  5. jan
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I wish I had been “diagnosed” at an earlier stage, you know, before lymph node involvement. So if one has it (and one should check to see if they do), then the earlier one is dx the better the chances of survial and if it’s early enough you may even avoid chemotherapy. So I am glad more women are getting mammograms and hopefully they are catching it early.

    I completely agree and have stated even before I got this that more resources need to be put into finding cause. While one may think it makes sense to blame rBGH for breast cancer (and I find rBGH replusive), we don’t have it in Canada and our rates are the same as in the U.S. So you will pound away at the elimination of it only to see your stats remain the same.

  6. Posted April 18, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Thank you! I hope you don’t mind if I post this on my blog!

    I hate the Facebook games that are supposed to raise awareness. What does the colour of your bra have to do with anything? My daughter had to watch me lost a breast, and she posted on her wall that it was stupid. She actually had a grown woman tell her that it’s “grown up” fun, & she didn’t understand. Excuse me? She drove me to & from chemo & radiation! That woman had never dealt with it – yet she still chided my 19 year old daughter! It’s exactly this type of thinking that makes me so angry.

    Sorry for the rant!

  7. Anne
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Excellent point and excellent article. I’ll celebrate when the dx numbers go down. @jan, really interesting about rBGH and Canada’s bc rates.

  8. alicia
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Feel free to republish, Gayle (and anyone else who is interested)!

  9. Beverly
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Detection is not PREVENTION. I agree we’re ready to move on from detecting the cancer to PREVENTING it in the first place.


  10. Hattie
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Angela. “Awareness” is great but it is time to get rid of the known causes.

  11. Ria Satherley
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    I agree with this article regarding that it is time for prevention, though detection is also vitally important so mammograms and awareness along with self examination is still necessary. I’ve had breast cancer twice, first in 1997 and then again in 2008. Both times my lymph nodes were negative so even though I had 2 mastectomies, early detection spared me alot of other dramas. Until a prevention is found, keep up the detection.

  12. Posted April 19, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    BRAVA! Thanks for this awesome post. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said, and I share your frustrations. The cancer center at which I was treated recently posted on their Facebook wall, quoting the director of the CDC’s division of cancer prevention and control, who said that the incidents and death rates of cancer are finally going down, now that people are “getting mammograms,” etc. He said, “It’s much more difficult to lower cancer rates than infectious disease rates. The only way is through behavior change.”

    My response was –

    Cancer rates would be lowered if the government and corporations would change THEIR behaviors, and stop polluting our air, water, soil, food, and household products with carcinogenic chemicals. We as individuals can only do so much. I was dx’d with breast cancer when I was 30, with no family history, despite the fact that I never smoked, never had alcohol, ate an organic/vegetarian diet for the previous 9 years, had a healthy BMI, exercised regularly and could do 10 pull-ups, never used birth control pills or HRT, etc., etc. I’ve heard MANY MANY stories like mine. Cancer deaths may be declining, but cancer RATES are rising, including in children and animals, and the solution is not to tell them to “change their behaviors.” We need a gov’t that does its job, and we need corporations to value PEOPLE and the PLANET as much as profit.

  13. Posted April 19, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I really appreciate your attitude.
    From what I’ve read over a few years,
    mammographies themselves can cause damage
    that can result in cancer
    cancers that are now detected earlier,
    leading to all kinds of treatments,
    may in fact have disappeared on their own
    without any intervention
    (ie small growths come and go,
    and this is not an uncommon occurence).
    So, for my 50th b-day, I got a letter in the mail
    which I immediately shredded.
    I’ll read labels, try to stick to my home-made vegetarian food
    and keep and share a positive attitude about life
    instead of about medical breakthroughs.

    Thanks for sharing!

  14. Posted April 27, 2011 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    I’m finding your post late, but… I agree with you totally. It is so past time to move beyond the simplistic pink campaigns, jt’s time for more, much more. While detection is important, it is not prevention and where is the progress on more humane treatments and ultimately a cure? That’s what I want more focus on research. My last post was about this too, hope you’ll stop by and throw in your two cents. Great post!

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