Approximately 55,000 people are told each year that they have breast cancer and roughly one in five will die from it. As the second leading cause of cancer mortality among women, raising awareness of the epidemic remains vital.
Breast cancer awareness month is an annual initiative held every October that is championed by thousands of organisations worldwide. Wear It Pink, the UK’s largest breast cancer research charity, are among many that highlight the importance of breast cancer awareness, education, and research.
By wearing pink as much as possible throughout the month, not only will people showcase their flamboyantly bold fashion choices, but awareness of this life-threatening disease will be raised. The public are also encouraged to generously donate to these organisations in order to combat the illness.
The importance of the awareness campaigns cannot be understated with roughly one in seven women in the UK being expected to develop breast cancer in their lifetime. During October alone, nearly 5,000 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
On a much more positive note, breast cancer survival is improving. Survival rates have doubled in the past 40 years in the UK due to a combination of improvements in treatment, earlier detection through screening and therefore a faster diagnosis.
Controversially, organisations involved in Breast Cancer Awareness Month have been publicly criticised for lacking transparency. Breast Cancer Action holds a negative stance about the awareness movement, stating that organisations exploit the disease to improve their own public relations and image whilst also generating profits. Their motives are questioned and these organisations are accused of ‘Pinkwashing.’
In addition, this view is reinforced by Paige Moore, cofounder of the non-profit organisation The Breasties. She recognises that the money received via donations is not always used for maximum benefit, and boldly asks “What if, instead of putting all of that money toward marketing and advertising materials, that money went directly to a nonprofit, a hospital, or breast cancer research?”
Clearly, Pinkwashing is a phenomenon that is recognised by multiple independent sources, all of whom would rather see financial resources poured into research and education rather than marketing, manufacturing, or selling of pink products. Instead, it is felt that the causes of breast cancer need to be disseminated more than raising awareness of the disease.
Breast Cancer is a multi-faceted disease with a variety of causes: age, genetics, hereditary, dense breast tissue, oestrogen exposure, obesity, radiation exposure, and hormone treatments. Pertinently, several of these causes can be mitigated through lifestyle and behavioural changes.
Statistics from Cancer Research indicate that 8% of breast cancer cases in the UK are caused by obesity and the same proportion is caused by alcohol and drinking. Smoking is the largest preventable cause of cancer – 20.3% of adults currently smoke cigarettes in Stoke-on-Trent, which is higher than the national average (15.5%).
Paige Moore, an activist for women’s health and empowerment, recognises that education is far more important than continuing to raise awareness as she rhetorically retorts: “Don’t get me wrong, awareness is important, but haven’t we all been aware for some time now?”
Through being educated about breast cancer, she learned that she carried the BRCA1 gene; a genetic strand that makes her more susceptible of developing the cancer. As a result, she has had a preventative double mastectomy to deal with her heightened risk.
Some organisations recognise this and genuinely raise awareness whilst also educating the public through a variety of initiatives. Ladies Fighting Breast Cancer (LFBC) has been running for over 19 years and is supported by volunteers; many of whom have dealt with the shocking impacts of the disease through the tragic loss of friends or family.
LFBC has breast cancer awareness and education close to its heart, and the clip below is from spokeswoman Nyasha Pitt who recognises that donations made to organisations do need to be considered carefully by the public in light of discussions surrounding Pinkwashing.
So, what can we do this October as individuals to challenge breast cancer? We can mitigate drinking, smoking, and adopt a healthier lifestyle. Finally, we can follow in the footsteps of LFBC and echo the sentiments from Paige Moore: “What we need is to raise money for research, community support, educational resources, and hospitals. When a brand or corporation puts their money toward these things, real change happens and it directly impacts those of us who are affected by breast cancer.”