‘Pinktober’ brings only attention, not results

Breast Cancer Awareness

Francis Emelogu/The Cougar

Every October, one will find pink everywhere: pink shirts, pink ribbons, pink all over products in grocery stores — from pens to yogurt to soup cans. October, nicknamed “Pinktober,” may have begun with the good intention of spreading awareness and educating the public about breast cancer, but that initial intention has snowballed into a commercialized breast cancer culture.

Petroleum engineering freshman Fatou Traore said she thinks that breast cancer awareness has become a trend.

“I generally see it on Instagram and social media,” Traore said. “They raise funds for that, so they use it to get publicity.”

Breast cancer affects about 1 in 8 women in the United States, and the American Cancer Society estimates that about 40,000 women will die from breast cancer in 2014.

Aside from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the U.S. Additionally, this cancer is the second deadliest cancer among women after lung cancer.

Education senior Sarah Henderson said she thinks that breast cancer awareness during October has made a difference in awareness.

“I think that it does bring awareness to (breast cancer) and almost everyone can recognize the pink ribbon and what it stands for,” Henderson said. “I don’t feel personally that I’ve been overexposed to it.”

One of the leading fundraising organizations for breast cancer is the Susan G. Komen foundation, which holds the annual Race for the Cure fundraiser every year in various cities.

Community health outreach and advocacy program critics of Komen and other similar organizations feel that breast cancer activism has lost its scientific roots and has made support for the cause a fashionable activity — one that obscures the grief, frustration and fear behind the disease.

The Komen Foundation has recently come under criticism for partnering with the fracking industry, despite the fact that chemicals used in the fracking process are hazardous to one’s health.

According to energy services firm Baker Hughes, the company will distribute drill bits painted pink in order to promote awareness in addition to donating $100,000 to the Komen foundation.

“It’s controversial. If they care about breast cancer, (Komen) shouldn’t be allied with this company,” Traore said. “It doesn’t make sense to me. Oil companies pollute the air; they shouldn’t do it.”

Given the nature of the industry, this partnership is completely illogical.

Texas regulators reported that in areas of heavy natural gas development, “female breast cancer had a higher than expected number of cases in the area.”

This decision is just one example to show how pinkwashing has trivialized efforts to raise money for research. While the Baker Hughes firm is giving a generous donation, it is hypocritical for the Komen foundation to accept money from a company whose line of work contributes to increased risk for illness.

Producer of “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” Ravida Din criticizes breast cancer culture in her film, claiming that it has depoliticized women’s health issues, and instead of getting to the root of the problem, more people are focused on finding treatments and cures.

“We are not doing enough with looking at the disease origins. Why do we get cancer in the first place?” Din said. “The fact is that most of the money raised focuses on awareness and lifestyle changes and not on primary prevention.”

Like other forms of cancer, treatments are available, but prevention is crucial.

One of the easiest ways for people to donate money to fund is research is by buying products that claim to donate funds to breast cancer research. While this has become highly popular among companies, it’s possible that products sporting pink ribbons merely attract attention to generate a larger profit for companies.

Henderson said she does not mind purchasing products to support breast cancer research, but likes to know where her money is going.

“I don’t always buy (products) thinking to support (research), but I don’t have a problem supporting it if I happen to need a product,” Henderson said. “I’d have to do research on the company before I believe it or not, but for the most part I believe (companies) donate that money.”

The organization Breast Cancer Action has created a Think Before You Pink campaign, helping those who genuinely wish to donate to breast cancer research evaluate “pinkwashed” products and determine whether or not their money will truly go to research.

According to the Think Before You Pink website, consumers need to know how much money is going to research, where that money is going and if there is a “cap” on the amount the company will donate.

Consumers also need to realize that some companies that donate to breast cancer research have known carcinogens or other toxic chemicals in their products.

For example, Campbell’s Soup contains bisphenol-A (BPA), a suspected carcinogen with scientific links to breast cancer. Also, in 2011 Susan G. Komen released a perfume called Promise Me which contained chemicals that are regulated as toxic and hazardous, causing them to later discontinue the fragrance.

Breast cancer research should not be reduced to the color pink. It should not be something that is a trend that comes through every October.

Breast cancer is a serious disease and has serious consequences. It has become so commonplace to see products or social media fads about breast cancer, the movement for awareness has lost its substance.

For those interested in donating money to reputable breast cancer research organizations, try one of these organizations: Breast Cancer Action, Stand up to Cancer and Metavivor.

Opinion columnist Rama Yousef is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected].

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