Breast cancer awareness is an effort to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of breast cancer through education on its symptoms and treatment. The aim is that greater knowledge will lead to earlier detection of breast cancer and this leads to higher long-term survival rates. Another aim is to raise money that will produce a reliable and permanent cure.
Breast cancer awareness and advocacy involve:
- lobbying and raising funds for better care
- educational campaigns
- patient empowerment
- free or low-cost services
The pink ribbon is the most prominent symbol of breast cancer awareness and it may be worn to honor those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or to identify products that a manufacturer would like to sell to consumers that are interested in breast cancer. Pink ribbons are sometimes sold as fundraisers and in many countries, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month(BCAM). It is observed by many governments, the media, and cancer survivors. The month-long campaign has been called Pinktober.
BCAM started in 1985 by the American Cancer Society and a pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca. The organization that runs the official BCAM aims to promote mammography and other forms of early detection as the most effective means of fighting breast cancer. Events during BCAM include fundraising-based foot races, walk-a-thons, bicycle rides, soliciting for donations to a breast cancer-related charity in return for running, walking, or riding in the event. Events organized by Avon or Komen foundation are known to allocate around 25-33% of donations to the funds needed to organize the event and advertise it.
Through these mass-participation events, breast cancer survivors can form a single, united group that speaks and acts consistently and shares a coherent set of beliefs.
Many corporate and charitable organizations run advertisements related to breast cancer during BCAM. In addition to selling pink products, corporate advertisements may promote the company’s progressive policies or may provide free advertising for a chosen charity. Medical institutions may run advertisements for mammograms or other breast-related services. Non-profit organizations often benefit from public service announcements which are free advertisements provided by newspapers, radio, television stations and other media.
Marketing of breast cancer awareness allows people to incorporate support for the awareness into their personal identities or lifestyles. Socially aware and pro-woman individuals, businesses, politicians and organizations use pink ribbons and other trappings of breast cancer awareness to signal their support for women, health, and mainstream medicine.
Various landmarks are illuminated in pink lights as a visible reminder of breast cancer and public events such as football games may use pink equipment or supplies. Private companies may arrange a ‘pink day’ in which employees wear pink clothes in support of breast cancer patients.
These breast cancer awareness campaigns have been highly effective in getting attention for the disease. Breast cancer receives significantly more media coverage than other prevalent cancers, such as prostate cancer. The breast cancer awareness movement has been uniquely successful because there is no countermovement that opposes the breast cancer movement or believes that breast cancer is desirable.
The act of blindly wearing or displaying a pink ribbon without making other more concrete efforts to cure breast cancer criticised much due to its apparent lack of real effects. Critics say that the feel-good nature of pink ribbons and pink consumption distracts the society from the lack of progress in curing breast cancer. It is also criticized for reinforcing gender stereotypes and objectifying women and their breasts.
Generally, breast cancer awareness movements have been criticized for the following reasons:
- Minimizing risks of screening programs
- Conflicts of interest
- A narrow focus of research funding, screening and existing treatments at the expense of prevention and new treatments.
Despite all of this, breast cancer awareness movements have achieved social progress, increased resources for research and treatment and educated and empowered patients.