The bulk of my work, but especially in and around the month of October, is concentrated on breast cancer. “Awareness.” Culture. Industry. Advocacy. Mass Media. Scientific Controversies. Sound bites. Misinformation. Profiteering. Marketing pitches. Parades of pink. People in the middle try to set the record straight, often while dealing with realities of a disease that are never truly addressed in a comprehensive way.

Funeral directors wear pink jackets to honor “those who have battled breast cancer.”

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Cancer Center chastises women to persuade them to get mammograms, despite overwhelming evidence that screening mammography benefits fewer and harms more women than previously believed.

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Plastic Surgeons sell breast augmentation surgeries; objectify breasts; donate to “research.” As a massive consumer market, the number of plastic surgery procedures increases 5 percent every year.

TaTa Augmentation for RESEARCH
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Photo by Jody Schoger

Largest breast cancer charity partners with one of the world’s largest oilfield service companies. Awareness in a pink drill bit; carcinogens in fracking chemicals.

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As I reflect on this ilk masquerading as something useful, I find myself deeply troubled.

There are so many well-intentioned people trying to make progress and a difference in the lives of those diagnosed with, and at risk for, breast cancer. How do they do it amid the refuse? How do they separate the wheat from chaff? How does anyone?

I recently wrote in an op-ed for the Chronicle of Philanthropy3 questions missing most “awareness” campaigns— that need to BE answered, to try to address this.

  • Do we know who profits from all those pink-ribbon products and how much of the money (if any) goes to research or to support the diagnosed?
  • Do we know how much it costs to dress the NFL (or anyone else) in pink and who it really serves?
  • Do we know whom to trust for independent, evidence-based information?

There are more questions than this, but if we start with these we might gain traction.