With cancer, you can’t have enough awareness

It’s hard to imagine that anyone could take exception to a simple pink ribbon. Yet the symbol of the breast cancer movement is under fire from groups and individuals who question its prolific use during breast cancer awareness month to shamelessly peddle consumer goods.

A recent news article (“Does buying pink really aid a cure?”) outlines the case put forth by the Breast Cancer Action Group against businesses who seek to capitalize on the marketing juggernaut of the October-based pink ribbon campaign. Their claim is that some companies are slapping the ribbon on products to jump on the bandwagon of the highly successful “cause marketing” phenomenon, without a corresponding donation or even affiliation with a breast cancer charity.

We agree that consumers who make purchasing decisions based on the presence of the ribbon deserve to know, up front, what portion of the price paid directly benefits the cause it’s promoting. They also need to be savvy enough to realize that the cost of the postage to mail in a box top or product lid may be greater than the donation the company will make in return. It’s also appropriate to challenge the manufacturers using the symbol to assure that the use of their products isn’t directly linked to an increased lifetime risk of a breast cancer diagnosis. And it’s important to keep in mind that the presence of the ribbon does not constitute an endorsement of the product.

We disagree, however, with the assertion of the Breast Cancer Action Group’s executive director, Barbara Brenner: “…awareness, we don’t need any more of… we have plenty of awareness. The question is what we do now.” Awareness is a powerful, life-saving tool. We applaud the Susan G. Koman Foundation for its tireless drumbeat, raising millions for research and keeping awareness about breast health top-of-mind. Early detection and treatment saves lives — there’s no argument about that.

While the pink ribbon campaign sets the bar for fund-raising and awareness, it doesn’t diminish the need for serious funding and attention to other types of cancer. Nor does it change the fact that heart disease is still the leading killer of women (and, men) in our country.

Raising awareness of all significant health threats is part of a sound prevention strategy.

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