Breast Cancer Awareness: What Are We Buying Into?

Breast cancer awareness has become synonymous with the ubiquitous pink ribbon. Everyone know what the pink ribbon means, it’s successfully become a logo associated with the disease. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you have most likely seen the pink ribbon plastered on everything from potato chips to dryer sheets to alcohol. There are numerous commercials promoting that if you buy “X” product, they will give some portion of each sold to (insert breast cancer research organization or charity here).

The Internet, as an infinite mode of spreading information, is also an active frontier for awareness raising campaigns, particularly via Facebook and Twitter. Remember a Facebook campaign is why Betty White hosted her first episode of Saturday Night Live despite having a 50+ year career in television. There were Twibbons (Twitter ribbons) that tweeters posted on their avatars (the small photo that accompanies your profile) for Haiti earthquake relief and many turned their avatars green in support of democracy in Iran during their elections last year. There’s pink ribbons available all year for breast cancer awareness. My question is what does “awareness” mean?

By now, most women from tweens to seniors know that we should be doing self-exams and checking for lumps in the shower. We know that we should get mammograms at 50, despite conflicting research. This is key information for both women and men. We also know that the branding of the color pink in October signifies breast cancer. But are we as a society using ribbons and social media to truly advance the cause?

If you’re a woman who is a Facebook user, you may have already received messages in your inbox asking you to play a “game” to raise awareness of breast cancer month. The game asks you to post in your status where you like to keep your purse. Huh? You are supposed to write in your status: “I like it on the counter” or “I like it on the desk” offering some sexual innuendo so that men Facebookers will catch on and instantly be interested in breast cancer. If you’re not making the connection between where you like “it” and breast cancer, you’re not alone. This is the latest incarnation of a earlier campaign in which women posted their bra color in their status…but at least there’s a connection with bras and breasts though the premise of “mystery” and “secrecy” is still the same.

An article on addresses the misguided idea of tantalizing men to create interest and awareness, noting that these sexually-tinged status updates get attention but not the kind that is going to inspire someone to research breast cancer. To go a step further, can’t we find a more clever way to get men’s and other women’s attention about breast cancer? For example, the awareness campaign “Save the TaTas” is flirty and effective. Getting heterosexual men to focus on breasts isn’t that tough but seriously I think we are grossly underestimating their intelligence and interest in breast cancer prevention. Many men have experienced dealing with the disease via their mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, extended family and friends. Are we also eliminating the idea of gay men as advocates and allies as well?

Also, in the arena of pseudo-dogooding, I saw this clip today on MSNBC about the idea of “pinkwashing“:


Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The idea is that many of the “pink” products actually contribute to breast, and other forms, of cancer. As Angela Wall from Breast Cancer Action (BCA) mentioned, alcohol companies are cashing in on the awareness campaigns spinning the idea that buying a pink ribbon labeled bottle today is supporting breast cancer research all year long even though there is a connection between alcohol and breast cancer. There are also various cosmetics companies participating in the pink ribbon craze meanwhile many of their products which women use daily (such as perfume and lipstick) are loaded with carcinogens. It’s not just liquor and cosmetics, but I’ve noticed that any products that are associated with women are using the pink ribbon, particularly detergents and house cleaners (more gender stereotyping) made from toxic chemicals including known carcinogens.

It’s natural to feel good about buying a product from a company that is contributing money to a good cause like breast cancer prevention. However BCA’s “Think Before You Pink” campaign asks consumers to consider what they are buying in the name of breast cancer awareness. So instead of continuing the cycle and exposing ourselves to things that increase our chances of developing cancer, let’s consider donating directly to breast cancer research organizations, or supporting a friend who is doing “Race for the Cure.” 

To return to social media’s role, there has been some pushback from both men and women about the Facebook status campaign and in response many organizations and individuals are encouraging their friends to post legitimate articles on breast cancer if they are planning to participate. At least people can still have the fun of being “sexy” backed up with some relevant and potentially life-saving information. I’m curious to know where this campaign originated because it has done more promotion for Facebook than for breast cancer.

There is a wide variety of breast cancer resources available online and specifically on Facebook. For example: Breast Cancer Awareness not only sells pink ribbon products to raise money for mammograms but also is encouraging interactivity by asking people who “like” them to share a story or post in their status the name of someone they have grown closer to because of breast cancer. The Breast Cancer Campaign, based in England, created an application where users purchase a ribbon for their Facebook page with proceeds going directly to fund research.

However we individually decide to support breast cancer prevention (or not), let’s please take a moment to think about how we are concretely advancing the cause. Did we educate others or ourselves? Did we support research for a cure? Did we lend a listening ear for a survivor that wants to share their story? I think those things can have a bigger impact than pink dryer sheets or perfume. 

And for the record, I like it on my chair.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • plume-assassine

    Part of me is glad to see so much public attention on a cause as important as raising money to combat breast cancer! But another part of me is really annoyed because we don’t have as much attention or awareness of the real #1 killer of women — heart disease.


    I think it has to do with the fact that the public sees breasts as such an important marker of female gender identity and sexuality that people are more interested in saving breasts than saving the women who own those breasts. After all, one campaign as you mentioned, is literally called “Save the TaTas!” I often wonder how that makes breast cancer survivors feel, especially those women who needed a double mastectomy to save their life? Or women with very small breasts? Or even, I wonder, how that makes men feel, considering that they can get breast cancer, too, and they certainly don’t have “tatas.”


    And, then of course, there are the weird memes about bra colors and purses. It’s really lost on me. I mean, I don’t even own a purse! Personally, if I want to do something to make a difference, it’s not going to involve a status update on Facebook. I love the “race for the cure” events that my small town has and other tangible ways they raise money and awareness. We need more stuff like that, less sexualization, less stereotyping, and less “pink-washing” of everything.

  • annrose

    I’ve always wanted to know exactly what percentage or how much of the sales price of some of these prducts ever gets to the intended organization.  They vaguely say “portion of the proceeds” or whatever…but never any real details.  Is it 10% or 0.000001% or whatever?


    That’s why I shy away from these marketing gimmicks.

  • invalid-0

    Totally agree with the above, but another thing is October is not just Breast Cancer Awareness month, but it is also Down Syndrome Awareness and Dyslexia Awareness month (among probably others). This does not negate the importance of being aware of, getting more research for, etc., breast cancer. My mom is a 5-year survivor, so it’s impacted me directly. But the bra color thing and purse thing? Doesn’t help really raise awareness, in my mind (and last year a friend whose mom’s also been through it was positively vitriolic on her FB page against the bra color thing because she saw it making light of something very serious).

    What I’m doing for Down syndrome awareness (I have a 6 year old with DS, and I figure way more people are doing stuff for Breast cancer so DS has a greater need) is to post something interesting, informative, and/or just positive about it every day, a way to bring more awareness to something that a lot of folks don’t know about. For those who like doing FB stuff, finding useful things to post would probably be far more awareness-bringing.

    Re the second comment — Dannon yogurt does the thing with the lids every year. And every year, I think: Dannon, you know how many of these are sold. Why make people go through the effort to send them in? Just contribute the money based on sales. Or just contribute the max you say you will contribute instead of playing games. Another marketing gimmick.

  • breast-cancer-awareness-news

    Six Research Studies Linking Abortion to Breast Cancer (5 of them published in year 2009)


    1st Breast Cancer Research Paper (Year 2009) Linking Abortion To Breast Cancer:


    Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research & National Cancer Institute stated abortion is linked to elevated breast cancer risk in a 2009 published research paper titled, “Risk Factors For Triple-Negative Breast Cancer In Women Under The Age of 45 Years.” Study was published in Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prevention Journal 2009: 18 (4) April 2009.


    Line 3-5 at the top left column of page 1163 in Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prevention Journal, the study clearly concludes, “…..induced abortion & contraceptive use were associated with increased risk for breast cancer.”

    To see the 10 page report for yourself, please cut & paste the link below:




    2nd Breast Cancer Research Paper Linking Abortion To Breast Cancer:

    This study was conducted by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research & was published in American Journal of Epidemiology. It concludes in part, “Among women who had been pregnant at least once, the risk of breast cancer in those with a prior induced abortion was 20% higher than that in women with no history of abortion (95% confidence interval 1.0–1.5). “

    To read:



    3rd Breast Cancer Research Paper (Year 2009) Linking Abortion To Breast Cancer:

    This study was published in reputable Journal of Surgery Oncology 2009:

    Turkish breast cancer study. Citation: Ozmen et al. Breast cancer risk factors in Turkish women – a university hospital-based nested case control study. Published in World Journal of Surgery Oncology 2009;7:37 Turkish study reported a statistically significant 66% increased risk of breast cancer for women with abortions. It concluded: “These findings suggest that age and induced abortion were found to be significantly associated with increased breast cancer risk whereas oral contraceptive use was observed to be associated with decreased breast cancer risk among Turkish women in Istanbul. Available at:


    4th Breast Cancer Research Paper (Year 2009) Linking Abortion To Breast Cancer:

    China breast cancer study by Xing P, Li J, Jin F. A case-control study of reproductive factors associated with subtypes of breast cancer in Northeast China.” Humana Press, e-publication online September 2009. The study’s abstract concluded: “Breastfeeding protected parous women from any subtype of breast cancer. Postmenopause and spontaneous abortion were inversely associated with the risk of luminal tumors. By contrast, multiparity, family history of breast cancer and induced abortion increased the risk of breast cancer.”

    To read abstract:



    5th Breast Cancer Research Paper (Year 2009) Linking Abortion To Breast Cancer:

    Sri Lanka – De Silva et al. Cancer Epidemiol. 2010 Jun;34(3):267-73. Epub 2010 Mar 24.

    Title of research paper, “Prolonged breastfeeding reduces risk of breast cancer in Sri Lankan women: a case-control study.” Published by De Silva M, Senarath U, Gunatilake M, Lokuhetty D

    Department of Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, 25 Kynsey Road, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

    It concluded, in part: “The significant factors associated with increased risk of breast cancer were: post-menopausal women (OR=1.74; 95%CI=1.01, 3.01); having an abortion in the past (OR=3.42; 95%CI=1.75, 6.66) and exposure to passive smoking (OR=2.96, 95%CI=1.53, 5.75).” In other words, as the Daily Mail UK reported, although the study was focused on the association between the duration of breastfeeding and the risk of breast cancer, other risk factors were discovered, and “the highest of the reported risk factors was abortion.” To read abstract:


    6th Breast Cancer Research Paper (Year 2009) Linking Abortion To Breast Cancer:


    Researchers in Iran have published the results of a new study showing women who have an abortion face a 193% increased risk of breast cancer. On the other hand, women who carry a pregnancy to term find a lowered breast cancer risk compared with women who have never been pregnant.

    Title of breast cancer research paper is, “Reproductive factors associated with breast cancer risk in northern Iran” and the findings were reported in the April 3, 2010 issue of Medical Oncology.

    Researchers Hajian-Tilaki K.O. and Kaveh-Ahangar T. from Babol University of Medical Sciences compared 100 cases of women who were newly diagnosed with breast cancer compared with 200 age-matched controls to review several reproductive factors.

    The researchers discovered abortion significantly elevated breast cancer risks. Also, having a first pregnancy at an older age increases the breast cancer risk by 310 percent.

    The abstract concludes, “
    Nulliparity, late age at first birth and abortion were the most important reproductive factors associated with breast cancer risk; therefore, it is recommended to women with these risk factors to perform breast cancer screening tests earlier.


  • prochoiceferret

    Six Research Studies Linking Abortion to Breast Cancer (5 of them published in year 2009)


    Great! Maybe you can show these to the mainstream cancer-research organizations, and have them weigh it against the large body of research that presents little to no evidence of an abortion/breast-cancer link.


    Oh, by the way, did you know that obesity is a more significant risk factor for breast cancer? Your time and effort would be better spent protesting McDonald’s than women’s health clinics.

  • squirrely-girl

    … is that I don’t have a lot of respect for any human subjects research coming out of Sri Lanka, Turkey, China, or Iran. :(

  • runningshoe