I’m glad to see the mainstream media finally giving some attention to the question of whether all these pink ribbons are actually helping the breast cancer cause. The New York Times gave serious ink space to the issue, although largely missed the point, with “The Pinking of America” by Natasha Singer last month. And Friday, Forbes posted this comprehensive piece by Amy Westervelt, “The Pinkwashing Debate: Empty Criticism or Serious Liability?”

Serious liability, I say! (and thanks to Amy for quoting me in the story). As I wrote in the comments, I was dismayed to read that Elizabeth Thompson, president of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, thinks environmental links to cancer are based not on evidence but on “beliefs and emotion.” Ms. Thompson should take a look at the 2007 study commissioned by her own organization with the Silent Spring Institute, which identified 216 chemicals that cause breast cancer in animals that are widely detected in human tissues and in environments, like the home, where women spend time.

Because exposure to these chemicals is so widespread, “the public health impacts of reducing exposure would be profound even if the true relative risks are modest, ” the researchers wrote. “If even a small percentage is due to preventable environmental factors, modifying these factors would spare thousands of women.”

I would also suggest Ms. Thompson take a look at the President’s Cancer Panel report of 2010, which states that the “true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated” and calls for immediate action to reduce carcinogens in the environment.  Also on the reading list should be the Breast Cancer Fund’s State of the Evidence report, which documents hundreds of studies linking chemical exposures and radiation to increased breast cancer risk.

Unfortunately, the big breast cancer charities seem to have taken on the mentality of the corporations that fund them — growth for the sake of growth, whatever it takes. The original intent of the pink ribbon as an advocacy tool has long been  buried in an avalanche of marketing hype to sell products and goodwill for corporations that are contributing to the problem by selling unhealthy products and/or putting carcinogens into the environment and our bodies.

What do you think? Is there no such thing as too much pink (as Nancy Brinker told the NYT)? Or is it time to pressure Susan G. Komen for the Cure and other big cancer charities to stop partnering with corporations that are part of the problem and start talking seriously about prevention?

I’d love to hear your comments…

More must-read coverage:
Sacramento Bee: “Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red, ” by Francesca Lyman
Nancy Brinker’s response: “Too Much Pink? Not while breast cancer still kills”
Marie Claire: “The Big Business of Breast Cancer” by Lea Goldman
Forbes: “Pinkwashing: Corporate Sponsored Cancer, ” by Mia Davis, Amy Lubitow
Deseret News: “Are all the pink ribbons helping to cure cancer?” by Sarah Gamble


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11 Responses to “”

  1. Alisa Rose Seidlitz Says:

    hmmm..”growth for the sake of growth, whatever it takes” – sounds a bit like, uh, a certain disease, doesn’t it?!
    I have no doubt that women such as Ms. Thompson truly want a cure…it boggles my mind why they wouldn’t see the data in that light. What kind of “evidence” would be sufficient?
    Upon what does Ms. Thompson base HER belief that environment links are based on “belief and emotion”?
    What is the denial about, for those who are not the toxic products manufacturers?
    What is the vested interest of the charities in continuing with denial?
    They could positively effect and help many people, as well as turn the tide to healthy products if they would choose to open their eyes and change their focus.

  2. Amy Willard Says:

    You know…that’s a damn shame. I am a 2x survivor.

    I guess they ARE all about fund-raising…their own! The cosmetics industry is VERY lucrative…! But when only 4% of their $1.9 BILLION went to research…

    Things that make you go hmmmmm..

  3. Kourtney L. Says:

    I think companies going Pink is not beneficial to help curing cancer it is helpful for businesses to gain more profits. If Susan G. Komen for the Cure, “thinks environmental links to cancer are based not on evidence but on “beliefs and emotion”" I would have her look at what they are doing to products and companies all over with a pink ribbon on it. If you choose a product over another product because it had a pink ribbon on it and you feel better about yourself for buying, well I believe that is based on a belief and emotion also.

    @ Amy 4% of their $1.9 billion going to research..wow! That is unreal. I think people should donate to a different charity. If you want to donate to breast cancer try going somewhere else, don’t look for the pink ribbon.

  4. Mia Says:

    Thanks for the great post, Stacy. Nothing gets me more riled up that pinkwashing, and many cancer associations’ refusal to focus on real prevention and the environmental links to breast cancer and other diseases. Yes, I agree that over-the-top-cause-marketing is a liability, and there can be (there already is!) too much pink. I recently wrote about this on Greenwala.com: http://www.greenwala.com/community/blogs/all/18604-Breast-Cancer-Month-Winds-Down-But-Will-Pinkwashing-Continue-Through-the-Year

  5. Stacy Malkan Says:

    Thanks Mia! Your work is very much appreciated too. Here’s another great piece by Mia Davis and Amy Lubitow in Forbes. And also, a huge kudos to Forbes for being willing to take on controversial issues. http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2011/07/11/pinkwashing-corporate-sponsored-cancer/

  6. Nancy's Point Says:

    I agree, it’s time for that pressure. In fact, it’s way past time. Thanks for writing this and for providing all the great links.

    I just blogged about Ms. Brinker’s casual response to the question, “Is there too much pink?”


  7. Stacy Malkan Says:

    Thanks for your great blog too Nancy!

  8. Jordan Says:

    Elizabeth Thompson’s flippant comments about how our environment affects our risk for cancer show a shocking lack of respect and awareness for science, and lead me to believe that Komen will continue to push for a far-off cure and pay no mind to wielding its vast influence for the much more immediate steps its audience can take to lower cancer risk.

  9. Pink Ribbon Blues Says:

    Serious liability, no doubt. It is always interesting to me how heartstrings are pulled to gain support for the cause, and then critical questions are cast as “emotional.”

    Science is an iterative process, and one must look at the preponderance of evidence, what’s missing in the knowledge base, and what’s at stake for whom. Regardless of direct causation, which is always a problem when studying something that has many root causes, does anyone actually LOSE by removing unregulated toxins from the environment? Why, YES! Those who make a lot of money from their mass distribution. Otherwise, it just seems logical and prudent.

    Gayle Sulik

  10. Ashley Says:

    This really spoke to me: “Unfortunately, the big breast cancer charities seem to have taken on the mentality of the corporations that fund them.” It’s fascinating and disturbing that so many non-profit organizations basically ARE corporations.

    This is a good analysis of her ignorance of carcinogens. This ignorance is widespread, or at least attention to it is deflected onto the individual: stop smoking; exercise. That’s fairly typical health promotion. It fails to address issues in society that affect health. Doesn’t hold corporations accountable.

    Great blog! I’m glad I found you.

  11. Stacy Malkan Says:

    Thanks Ashley! I’ve been thinking a lot about how it is even possible that the folks at Susan G. Komen for the Cure were so unprepared for the backlash of their decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. How can they be so out of touch with their constituency to not see that coming? Then I realized, their constituency has really become the corporations that fund them.

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