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Cancer Sucks. And so does Pink-Washing.

Back in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I shared my thoughts on pink-washing in a post called “Don’t Drink the Pink Kool-Aid.”

In it, I questioned all the pink ribbons being slapped on everything from cell phones to chocolate bars; and wondered out loud about corporate profit-teering from an illness that is hurting so many of us. I didn’t have any easy answers, and instead decided that rather than promote one of the many pink campaigns landing in my email box from PR firms to share some tips for early prevention.

With the Susan G. Komen Foundation in hot water, the issue of pink-washing is top of mind with many bloggers. For me, with a good friend preparing for chemo, cancer has been on my mind daily. So when I came across Annie’s most excellent post at PhD in Parenting titled “Cancer Sucks, Pink is Profitable, and Cures are Magically Blameless,” I had to share it with you.

She starts her post by admitting “that I haven’t always questioned pink washing as carefully as I should in the past.” This, I’m sure, we can all admit to. It feels good to buy pink … to feel like we’re contributing to a worthy and important cause.

However, she concludes, with the help of a documentary titled Pink Ribbons Inc., that pink is only profitable if it focuses on finding a cure–not prevention. Her words:

The bulk of breast cancer research money in past years has gone into researching a cure. In the movie, they note that only 3 to 5 percent of funds go towards prevention of breast cancer.  In Canada, around 6.5 percent of money raised goes towards research into risk factors and risk reduction. Why is the number so low?

  • Is it because the prospect of a cure generates hope and therefore attracts more research dollars?
  • Is it because the focus on the cure doesn’t upset any corporate sponsors that may be contributing to the cause?
  • Is it because preventing cancer may dry up the enormous cash cow that pink ribbon campaigns have become?

And yet, more than anything, we need to find out why cancer rates are high and what we can do as a society in terms of prevention.

While this is not a real campaign, it represents the pinkwashing dilemma: does supporting breast cancer research make up for toxic products?

This image is not from a real campaign but illustrates an all-too-familiar corporate dichotomy. Image source.


Let’s demand accountability in exchange for our donation dollars.

To read more on this issue, please check out Annie’s post in full here, as well as by visiting Breast Cancer Action.

Edited to add: No, I’m not being a spoil-sport when I don’t play along with your “what colour” bra are you wearing meme on Facebook. It’s a f*cking terrible idea, people! (And you know I rarely swear on this blog, so I’m pretty serious here.) Please read this post at Toddler Planet to understand why. 

And another thing I’d like to add as well: As one reader as been so good as to share, the Komen story has evolved since I wrote this post. There’s a lot I didn’t know about this organization. You can learn more by reading this post by Jessica Gottlieb. I warn you though, it might make you feel like vomiting.


  1. This is something I have always wondered. I’m planning on watching this documentary. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I’ve always wondered this myself when you see pink ribbons plastered on everything.  Are profits really going toward fighting cancer?  The problem with certain companies is we never really know if our money is being put toward the charity or association it claims it is dontating to.

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