SAAD: Breast cancer organizations look for profits instead of cures

Opinions Column: My V is for Victory


As Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to an end and all of the bright-pink banners slowly come down, it seems as if the fervent support for the cause passes as quickly and quietly as the page on the calendar. But was is ever really there to start with?

Breast Cancer Awareness Month may seem noble in its title and intention, however, the media and the companies that campaign for the cause have combined to exploit the vicious disease that will eventually kill more than 40,000 women and 400 men in 2016, and turn it into a merchandisable brand. Frilly ribbons, publically-covered events and pretty shades of pink have become the face of the disease that will affect 1 in 8 women in the United States. You may proudly sport your “I heart boobies” bracelet and wear pink t-shirts at sporting events, but what are you really doing for the cause? The truth is: next to nothing.

One of the biggest brand names of breast cancer awareness is Susan G. Komen. Komen’s company, dedicated to “investing in breakthrough research to prevent and cure breast cancer,” and is known worldwide for its organized walks and pink apparel. But this substantially-funded organization is one of the most hypocritical of all of the “pink washing” facades. The company joined with Baker Hughes, a fracking company, to create and sell pink drill bits in order to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. This business move proved that the one who needed the breast cancer awareness and knowledge was Komen itself. Fracking, a term used to describe the process of drilling for oil using water and releasing gasses, creates harmful pollution that has been linked to cancer. How can an organization whose entire philosophy is based upon uniting to find a cure for cancer, become a conglomerate with a company that uses methods that were proven to cause it?

This was not Komen’s only offense. In 2011, the company had also released a perfume line that contained toxins that were used to kill rodents. In 2012, Komen cut funding to Planned Parenthood, which was responsible for conducting almost 500,000 breast exams and also provided referrals for those who were in need of mammograms. The list goes on and on. Susan G. Komen is the largest name in breast cancer foundations and yet only 17 percent of its profits go to actual research to finding a cure. A majority of its revenue is put towards education, or awareness. For an organization so adamant on finding a cure, it seems as though spreading word of itself is a main priority.

Susan G. Komen is not the only foundation dedicated to serving people with breast cancer and falling through with their promises. In 2013, CNN conducted an extensive investigation into four different cancer charities and found shocking results. Of the profits of all of these “charities,” with one being the Breast Cancer Society, only 3 percent was spent on aiding cancer patients. The other 97 percent was found to be spent on fundraisers, but also personal spending for CEOs and their families. If you ever donated to the Breast Cancer Society thinking that your money would be aiding the lives of those who suffer from breast cancer, it would be quite alarming to learn that the only thing you were funding was the college tuition for members of the society’s family.

It is true that breast cancer foundations are not always fraudulent and a lot of the work that even the highly commercialized organizations do is beneficial to the overall cause of breast cancer. However, the underlying problem with the “pink washing” of companies is that the focus is in the wrong place. Awareness is a significant thing to spread, and education is extremely important, but what some of these big-name breast cancer foundations fail to do is bring awareness to the right things. They merchandise pink, smiles and walkathons but they fail to teach you the realities of breast cancer. Think of how many times you’ve either donated to breast cancer research or even participated in a “walk to find the cure.” What did you actually learn about breast cancer or the people who have to face it in their everyday lives? Besides being force fed that “early detection saves lives” (which was proven to not even be true), what did you really become “aware” of? It is great to celebrate those who are survivors of breast cancer and showcase their battle but what of those who are still fighting that battle every day? A recent post on Twitter made me realize that breast cancer is neither frilly ribbons nor pink t-shirts, it's a disease that is affecting men and women every day. It’s time we took all of the awareness we’ve gained and focused it on actually finding a cure.

Syeda Khaula Saad is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English and journalism and media studies with a minor in French. Her column, “My V is for Victory” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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