How "Breast Cancer Awareness" Campaigns Hurt

Boobs string tankOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Pink ribbons abound at department stores, grocery stores, gas stations, shopping malls and many other places. But the big "awareness" push may be misplaced. After all, lung cancer kills twice as many women each year as breast cancer -- more women every year in the U.S. die from lung cancer than from breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers combined. In 2009 alone, 31,000 more women died of lung cancer than breast cancer. But there aren't any ribbons, theme-colored products, corporate promotions, colored car magnets, festivals or fundraisers to make people aware of lung cancer's devastating toll, or to support lung cancer victims or raise money for a cure.

Why not?

Sex Sells

Because female breasts are sexy, and sex sells. Lungs and other organs -- and their cancers -- just don't have the same zing. Lung cancer may be the country's number one cancer killer, but people are unlikely to flock to buy weird and inappropriate "lung cancer awareness" products like a colored "lung cancer awareness" hand gun, a "colon-cancer awareness" floating beer pong table or a bile-colored "pancreatic awareness" toaster. Lungs, pancreases, colons, prostates and other hard-working internal organs are just plain unattractive marketing tools -- they don't sell stuff. They are asexual, and hidden, and we like them that way. Not so with breasts. Female breasts conjure up buying power like few other organs, and the "breast cancer awareness" theme gives corporate America a legitimate "in" to link female breasts to sales of just about anything -- a winning combination for marketing purposes.

People also tend to blame lung cancer victims for their own disease, since smoking causes lung cancer. Never mind that cigarette companies engaged in 50 years of fraud and deception in advertising their products, or that they magnify the addictiveness of cigarettes by free-basing nicotine and performing other hidden chemical hanky-panky with tobacco. It's all the smoker's fault for getting cancer.

And What About Men?

Virtually all breast cancer awareness campaigns are silent about the fact that breast cancer also affects men. Men are at a diagnostic disadvantage for the disease because they are not urged to conduct self-exams or get screening mammograms the way women are. Ignorance about male breast cancer leads to long delays in diagnosis, reducing men's survival rate. Since the public is repeatedly told that breast cancer is a woman's disease, men have difficulty accepting the diagnosis when they are affected, even to the point of keeping their diagnoses secret. Male breast cancer victims also face a terrible stigma from society. One public health clinic refused to give a man a mammogram because he was a man. A neighbor of mine whose whose husband died of breast cancer (and who enlightened me about the toll the disease takes in men) told me that after his diagnosis, her husband's own friends jokingly derided him for having a "woman's disease."

When it comes to men, "breast cancer awareness" promotions as they are currently conducted, with their over-the-top emphasis on women's breasts, do more harm than good.

So It's All About Women's You-Know-Whats (Snicker!)

Beer4BoobsThese days, many breast cancer promotions have cringeworthy, degrading overtones that convey all the respect of drunken sailors at a strip club. A southern California company called "Save the Ta Tas" (phone 1-877-MY-TATAS), sells T-shirts with embarrassing slogans like "Caught you lookin' at my Ta Tas" and "I love my big Ta Tas." The company donates a small portion of sales from these items for research. A television commercial shows a woman wearing a skimpy bikini walking next to a swimming pool. Men gawk at her chest. The camera zooms in to focus on her jiggling breasts and a message fills the screen, "You know you like them. Now it's time to save the boobs." The ad invites viewers to attend an event called "The Boobyball Party." Hard Rock Hotels are advertising "Get into Bed for a Cure." There's even a horrifyingly-named "Beat the Hell Out of Breast Cancer" festival in Bryan, Texas, which offers promotional bracelets that say, "I Love Boobies." Flanigan's Boathouse in Malvern, Pennsylvania offers a happy hour called "Tips for Tits."


Alcohol Un-Awareness

Mike's Hard Pink LemonadeAlcohol manufacturers have started offending breast cancer survivors by using female breast cancer to sell liquor. California's Marin Brewing Company sponsors "BreastFest." The Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California has "All Hopped Up for the Cure," and Sweetwater Brewery in Atlanta minces no words with its ""Beer for Boobs" festival, promoted with the snickering tag line, "It's all about the boobs!" Delta Airlines' October in-flight magazine asks airline customers to "join Delta in the fight against breast cancer" by purchasing a pink martini made with Skyy Vodka and Minute Maid Pink Lemonade for $7. The Chambord liquor company urges people to "pink your drink", saying that "by adding a splash of Chambord to any cocktail, you're supporting breast cancer awareness year-round."

Liquor companies persist in linking their products to breast cancer awareness even though the National Cancer Institute warns that "even moderate drinking has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer," and the American Cancer Society says "The use of alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer."

Barbara Brenner, Executive Director of Breast Cancer Action, sums it up by saying, "Anybody trying to sell alcohol to promote breast cancer awareness should be ashamed of themselves."

Time for Self-Examination

Come October we are inundated with often mindless, embarrassing, even harmful and degrading pink cause marketing promotions. October, then, is a good time to urge consumers to look critically at marketing campaigns that persuade us to buy products by leveraging the emotions generated by a deadly disease, or employing sexual overtones to sell products. At the very first sign of pink, consumers need to start asking critical questions like "Is the product being sold actually good for us?" "Is the promotion appropriate?," "How would a breast cancer victim -- male or female feel toward this promotion? Would they consider it offensive?" and "Could I do more good if I donated money directly to a reputable disease research organization instead of spending it on this product?"

Chances are the answers to those questions will help consumers see that they've been taken for a ride on an often inappropriate and sometimes offensive rising tide of corporate pink.


I think before jumping in to any bandwagon or taking on the propaganda ourselves, we should realy give time for self-examination before taking any action.

Marketing campaigns to sell and profit are all around us. For example, Campbells Soup, which expects to make 8 billion in sales in 2011, offers "coupons for education" to make consumers feel good about their product. They encourage volunteers from schools to set up tables outside supermarkets to try to get shoppers to buy cans of soup and stop at the table afterward to hand over the coupon, which is worth 10 cents to schools. But Campbells gets free promotion via parent volunteers which is far more profitable than the coupons. In reality, Campbells cares about education in the same way that the alcohol industry cares about breast cancer.

Very interesting but I wish you'd include some of the info from the following pages:

Given, it IS important to be aware of breast cancer-but it's not the only one. My dad has melanoma, for instance. Why not promote that? Our generation flocks to tanning beds only to (unknowingly) increase their risk. So many people are uninformed of other risks! Thank you for posting this. It's good to know someone else feels the way I do.

I agree with most of your points. But i believe that people take this equally serious and when it comes about cancer other things like sex doesn't matter that much.

you are so right - i have wondered for years why these women cannot see that it's all about sex. it's almost as if their breasts define them - what about lungs!?? what the hell happens when you can't breathe - how sexy is that? and by the way, my mother died of lung cancer and never smoked, never had a health problem in her life, did not take any medication, never underwent surgery of any kind before being diagnosed, at the age of 78. you don't have to be derelict in your health to be struck down by cancer, or any other deadly disease. linda maccartney was a lifelong vegetarian, and was taken by breast cancer. how many articles have we read - and there are many - that state you should eat vegetables, increase your intake of vegetables, they are cancer fighters? it's no guarantee. and by the way, you should eat more veggies, and less meat anyway.

You have said what I have been thinking for years. I lost my dad to lung cancer, and no matter what time of year Walmart has something for breast cancer it irritates me beyond belief. Keep spreading this message people will get it eventually at least I hope.

The same aversion to hearing the "whole" message evidenced in many of these posts is indicative of the broader society. As a breast cancer survivor who values the wisdom of those working within the natural, nutritional realm rather than pharmaceutical/convetional medical, I was pleased to read this. Finally, someone said out loud what I feel every October. Seriously. Ta tas? Be smart with your time and money - understand all cancers, possible causes and prevention for yourselves and your families. Don't get hung up on a phrase in another's message. Stay focused and select your battles more carefully.

If you don't like the lack of "promotion" for a certain type of cancer, do something about it! Don't just sit on blogs complaining. YOU do something to add another search result on google. Has your mother,or sister, or father, or brother, or cousin, or friend battled a cancer other than breast? Start something in their name and honor! Tell the world about the cancer that took their life. Keep it from taking someone elses loved one! Remember them! Don't just sulk because someone else hasn't done it. It honestly shocks me how many people have so much anamosity towards an illness. So you don't like the Susan G. Komen organization? Why don't you personally call her sister Nancy (who started it as a promise to her dying sister she would help make this a world without breast cancer)tell her that she is simply selling sex and jumping on a bandwagon. Or how about visiting a woman or man dying from breast cancer and tell them you are sick of seeing the nation wide support for them and their cause to fight. I guess they should have chosen a different cancer to suffer from....o wait, they didn't choose it. How unfortunate they have to get the "popular" and "over done" cancer and have people bash them on blogs like this. BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD!!!!

You don't seem to understand the point of the article. Its purpose is to educate and by doing that, it's making people more aware. It's so easy to say BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD!!!! but to create change you will most definitely need support from other people. Nothing wrong about fostering community engagement, that's exactly what this post is doing. Also wanted to say that this post is totally on point. Those examples of sexist campaigns and "charity work" are disgusting. In the end they are just hurting women more than helping them.