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Breast cancer awareness is an effort to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of breast cancer through education on symptoms and treatment. Supporters hope that greater knowledge will lead to earlier detection of breast cancer, which is associated with higher long-term survival rates, and that money raised for breast cancer will produce a reliable, permanent cure.

Breast cancer advocacy and awareness efforts are a type of health advocacy. Breast cancer advocates raise funds and lobbyfor better care, more knowledge, and more patient empowerment. They may conduct educational campaigns or provide free or low-cost services. Breast cancer culture, sometimes called pink ribbon culture, is the cultural outgrowth of breast cancer advocacy, the social movement that supports it, and the larger women's health movement.

The pink ribbon is the most prominent symbol of breast cancer awareness, and in many countries the month of October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Some national breast cancer organizations receive substantial financial support from corporate sponsorships.[1]


Image result for pink ribbonImage result for pink ribbon



Marketing approaches[edit]

The goal of breast cancer awareness campaigns is to raise the public's "brand awareness" for breast cancer, its detection, its treatment, and the need for a reliable, permanent cure. Increased awareness has increased the number of women receiving mammograms, the number of breast cancers detected, and the number of women receiving biopsies.[2] Overall, as a result of awareness, breast cancers are being detected at an earlier, more treatable stage. Awareness efforts have successfully utilized marketing approaches to reduce the stigma associated with the disease.

Generally speaking, 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.[3]

Breast cancer as a brand[edit]

pink ribbon, an international symbol of breast cancer awareness.

Breast cancer advocacy uses the pink ribbon and the color pink as a concept brand to raise money and increase screening. The breast cancer brand is strong: people who support the "pink brand" are members of the socially aware niche market, who are in favor of improved lives for women, believe in positive thinking, trust biomedical science to be able to solve any problem if given enough money, and prefer curative treatments to prevention.[4][5]

The brand ties together fear of cancer, hope for early identification and successful treatment, and the moral goodness of women with breast cancer and anyone who visibly identifies themselves with breast cancer patients. This brand permits and even encourages people to substitute conscientious consumption and individual symbolic actions, like buying or wearing a pink ribbon, for concrete, practical results, such as collective political action aimed at discovering non-genetic causes of breast cancer.[6]

The establishment of the brand and the entrenchment of the breast cancer movement has been uniquely successful, because no countermovement opposes the breast cancer movement or believes that breast cancer is desirable.[7]

Pink ribbon[edit]

A pink ribbon is a symbol of breast cancer awareness. 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, much like poppies on Remembrance Day.

The pink ribbon is associated with individual generosity, faith in scientific progress, and an optimistic "can-do" attitude. It encourages individuals to focus on the emotionally appealing ultimate vision of a cure for breast cancer, rather than the reality that there is no certain cure for breast cancer, and no guarantee there will ever be such a cure.[8] The practice of blindly wearing or displaying a pink ribbon without making other, more concrete efforts to cure breast cancer has been described as a kind of slacktivism due to its lack of real effects,[9] and has been compared to equally simple yet ineffective "awareness" practices like the drive for women to post the colors of their bras on Facebook.[10] Critics say that the feel-good nature of pink ribbons and "pink consumption" distracts society from the lack of progress in curing breast cancer.[11] It is also criticized for reinforcing gender stereotypes and objectifying women and their breasts.[12]


Large events, such as walkathons, promote breast cancer awareness.

Each year, the month of October is recognized as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month by many governments, the media, and cancer survivors. The month-long campaign has been called Pinktober because of the increased production of pink goods for sale, and National Breast Cancer Industry Month by critics like Breast Cancer Action.[13] NBCAM was begun in 1985 by the American Cancer Society and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. The organization that runs the official NBCAM aims to promote mammography and other forms of early detection as the most effective means of fighting breast cancer.[14]

Typical NBCAM events include fundraising-based foot raceswalk-a-thons, and bicycle rides.[15] Participants solicit donations to a breast cancer-related charity in return for running, walking, or riding in the event. Through mass-participation events, breast cancer survivors form a single, united group that speaks and acts consistently and shares a coherent set of beliefs.[16]They also reinforce the cultural connection between each individual's physical fitness and moral fitness.[17] Events organized by Avon or Komen are known to allocate around 25%-33% of donations to the funds needed to organize the event and advertise it.[15]

A Breast Cancer Awareness programme is in progress in India among Muslim women by a NGO. December, 2013.

Various landmarks are illuminated in pink lights as a visible reminder of breast cancer, and public events, such as American football games, may use pink equipment or supplies. In 2010, all King Features Syndicate comic strips on one Sunday were printed in shades of red and pink, with a pink ribbon logo appearing prominently in one panel.

Private companies may arrange a "pink day", in which employees wear pink clothes in support of breast cancer patients, or pay for the privilege of a relaxed dress code, such as Lee National Denim Day.[15] Some events are directed at people in specific communities, such as the Global Pink Hijab Day, which was started in America to encourage appropriate medical care and reduce the stigma of breast cancer among Muslim women, and Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week, which some organizations highlight during the third week of October. Most events are well-received, but some, like the unauthorized painting of the Pink Bridge in Huntington, West Virginia, are controversial.

Companies and consumers[edit]

The basket contains an assortment of pink ribbon-branded promotional merchandise, including awareness bracelets, ink pens, candy, and emery boards.

Thousands of breast cancer-themed products are developed and sold each year.[18] Some of these items are everyday products that have been repackaged or repositioned to take advantage of cause-related marketing, such as teddy bears, clothing, jewelry, candles, and coffee mugs.[15] These blended value objects offer consumers an opportunity to simultaneously buy an object and make a donation to a breast cancer organization.[15] Some of these products are produced and/or sold by breast cancer survivors or charities for fundraising purposes, while others are for profits in addition to fundraising. Manufacturers also produce products with pink labels or pink ribbon logos to donate a sum of money to support the cause.[19]The donation is typically capped so that it is reached after a fixed level of sales, although in some cases the company is providing only free advertising for a selected charity. Although advertising costs are rarely disclosed, some companies have been found to spend far more money advertising "pink products" and tie-ins than they donate to charitable organizations supporting research or patients. For example, in 2005, 3M spent US $500,000 advertising post-it notes printed with a pink ribbon logo. Sales were nearly double what the company expected, but the campaign resulted in a $300,000 donation.[19]

Advertisers and retail consultants have said that because of consumer cynicism, a company can benefit from marketing its support for a cause such as breast cancer awareness only when the company treats that support as "a commitment and not a marketing opportunity". Andrew Benett, an executive at Euro RSCG said that because consumers "have become more mindful, more thoughtful, about how they consume, where they consume, why they consume", companies cannot succeed by "just slapping a pink ribbon on a product and [expecting that] people will buy more".[20] Pink products have also been condemned as promoting consumerismmaterialism, and environmental degradation. Critics are also concerned that the ubiquity of pink products may mislead people into thinking that significant progress has been made, and that small, individual actions, like buying a breast cancer-themed product, are sufficient.[21] Responding to criticism, Komen CEO Nancy G. Brinker said that corporate promotions enabled the organization to reach new audiences and that "America is built on consumerism. To say we shouldn't use it to solve the social ills that confront us doesn't make sense to me."[22]

The first breast cancer awareness stamp in the U.S., featuring a pink ribbon, was issued in 1996. As it did not sell well, a semi-postal stamp without a pink ribbon, the breast cancer research stamp, was designed in 1998. Products like these emphasize the relationship between being a consumer and supporting women with breast cancer.[23] In Canada, the Royal Canadian Mint produced 30 million 25-cent coins with pink ribbons during 2006 for normal circulation.[24] Designed by the mint's director of engraving, Cosme Saffioti (reverse), and Susanna Blunt (obverse), this colored coin is the second in history to be put into regular circulation.[24]

Business marketing campaigns, particularly sales promotions for products that increase pollution or have been linked to the development of breast cancer, such as alcohol, high-fat foods, some pesticides, or the parabens and phthalates used by most cosmetic companies, have been condemned as pinkwashing (a portmanteau of pink ribbon and whitewash).[25] Such promotions generally result in a token donation to a breast cancer-related charity by taking advantage of the consumers' fear of cancer and grief for people who have died to drive sales.[9] Critics say that these promotions, which net more than US $30 million each year just for fundraising powerhouse Susan G. Komen for the Cure, do little more than support the marketing machines that produce them.[21] Komen says that corporate sponsorships are necessary to pay for the organization's efforts: in the 2010 fiscal year it spent $175 million on public health education and awareness campaigns, $75 million on medical research and about $67 million on treatment and screenings for patients.[22]

Two significant campaigns against pink consumption are the National Breast Cancer Coalition's "Not Just Ribbons" campaign, and Breast Cancer Action's "Think Before You Pink" campaign. NBCC's "Not Just Ribbons" campaign sought to focus awareness efforts onto substantive issues such as genetic discrimination, access to cancer treatment, patient rights, and environmental breast cancer research.[26] "Think Before You Pink" encouraged consumers to ask questions about pink products (e.g., to find out how much of a donation was being made).[27]


This trolley advertisement promotes cosmetics company Avon Products, Inc. and breast cancer awareness. Because of the pink ribbon brand's strength, the advertisement is easily recognized as a promotion for breast cancer awareness, even among people who cannot read the Japanese text.

Many corporate and charitable organizations run advertisements related to breast cancer, especially during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in the hope of increasing sales by aligning themselves with a positive, helpful message.[28] 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 mammogram or other breast-related services. Non-profit organizations often benefit from public service announcements, which are free advertisements provided by newspapers, radio and television stations, and other media. Some marketing blurs the line between advertisements and events, such as flash mobs as a form of guerrilla marketing. The typical participant in the breast cancer movement, and therefore the advertisers' target audience, is a white, middle-aged, middle-class, well-educated woman.[29]

Some corporate sponsors are criticized for having a conflict of interest. For example, some of the prominent sponsors of these advertisements include businesses that sell the expensive equipment needed to perform screening mammography; an increase in the number of women seeking mammograms means an increase in their sales, which has led critics to say that their sponsorship is not a voluntary act of charity, but an effort to increase sales.[30] The regulated drug and medical device industry uses the color pink, positive images, and other themes of the pink ribbon culture in direct-to-consumer advertising to associate their breast cancer products with the fear, hope, and wholesome goodness of the breast cancer movement. This is particularly evident in advertisements designed to sell screening mammograms.[31]

Social role of the woman with breast cancer[edit]

A woman being treated with docetaxel chemotherapy for breast cancer. Cold mittens and wine coolers are placed on her hands and feet to reduce harm to her nails.

The marketing of breast cancer awareness allows people to incorporate support for awareness into their personal identity or lifestyle. Socially aware, 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.

The she-ro[edit]

The term "she-ro", derived from hero, is used in discussions of breast cancer to refer to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and sometimes to those who have survived breast cancer. The term describes an "idealized" patient who combines assertiveness, optimism, femininity and sexuality, despite the effects of treatment, and as a "paragon [who] uses a diagnosis of breast cancer as a catalyst for a personal transformation".[32]

Sociologist Gayle Sulik analysis of the she-ro's social role ascribes it qualities that include being an educated medical consumer with a brave, pleasant and optimistic public appearance and demeanor who aggressively fights breast cancer through compliance with screening guidelines and "disciplined practice of 'breast health'". In America the she-ro is diagnosed early due to adherence to early screening recommendations, and, by definition, survives her diagnosis.[33] The role emphasizes the femininity and female gender roleof the she-ro, offsetting the masculine characteristics of assertiveness, selfishness and "fighting" cancer by cultivating a feminine appearance and concern for others.[34] After treatment, the she-ro regains her femininity by using breast reconstruction, prosthetic devices, wigs, cosmetics, and clothing to present an aesthetically appealing, upper-class, heterosexual feminine appearance and by maintaining relationships in which she can nurture other people.[35] Ensuring the proper feeling rules of the breast cancer culture is encouraged, including remaining optimistic of a full cure, rationalizing the selfishness of treatment as a temporary measure and feeling guilty that it forces her to put her needs momentarily above the needs of others or due to her perceived inadequacy in caring for her family or other women with cancer.[36] Also included in the role is a form of have-it-all superwoman, cultivating a normal appearance and activity level and minimizing the disruption that breast cancer causes to people around her.[37]


The effort of maintaining the role of a she-ro can be stressful. The role encourages women to care for others rather than themselves, which the patient may find comforting, but this may lead to the reluctance or inability to ask for help they need or want which can lead to bitterness that their friends and family did not offer these services unbidden.[37] The success of the patient's normalization efforts may paradoxically increase their dissatisfaction, as their apparent ability to handle it all discourages people from offering help.<sup id="cite_ref-FOOTNOTESulik2010283.2C_286_38-0" class="reference" style="line-height: 1;