Seeing Red? 'Think Pink' Efforts Don't Always Benefit Breast Cancer Awareness, Some Say

For some, the thought of thinking pink leaves them seeing red. Others think that there’s too much green in the pink. Others are simply left blue.

October and all its breast cancer awareness-related activities stir a range of emotions, and not all of them are exactly gung-ho for the cause.

Even breast cancer patients.

“I definitely get frustrated,” said Joplin resident Sarah Burkybile. “I’ll go into a store and see a large display of pink paper towels. Does that really bring awareness? Is it doing what I think it’s doing?”

Burkybile is a survivor of breast cancer and serves on the Hope 4 You Breast Cancer Foundation’s board of directors. She said that as the awareness cause is marketed, a saturation point is being reached where the impact of a pink ribbon is diminished.

Well-meaning customers who buy ribbon-laden products must be attentive to where money actually goes, Burkybile said. And the message of awareness and prevention -- which includes regular self-exams and mammograms -- gets further diluted.

Pink overkill?

It’s hard to find products that haven’t been pinked out. Beauty appliances. Pink creme-filled Oreos. Clothing lines. Sweat pants at Victoria’s Secret. Bagels at Panera Bread. Lines of cosmetics.

Even the manly world of the NFL is shaded pink -- its players and coaches wear pink shoes, hats, gloves, mouthguards, socks, towels and more for breast cancer awareness.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure is one of the largest agencies behind the pink ribbon. The foundation lists hundreds of corporate sponsors and active programs on its website.

Cristina Riccio Kenny, manager of corporate relations for the foundation, said it raises about $50 million a year through those sponsorships and other fundraising activities.

But that doesn’t mean everything with a pink ribbon donates back to the cause. A company can easily slap a ribbon on its product without guaranteeing a donation, Kenny said.

“Unless the corporation is using our name and likeness without a valid contract, I don’t know that we have any recourse,” Kenny said. “But shoppers are savvy today. That’s the most powerful deterrent for companies with not-so-good intentions.”

Crystal Webster, executive director of the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks, said the question comes up occasionally among people she speaks with. On a local level, it’s rare for a company or group to hold pink-related sales without knowing about them, she said.

“We can find out whether someone is doing a fundraiser on our behalf,” Webster said. “Most of the time we know, and if there are any questions, we’re happy to pick up the ball and find out what their intent is.”

‘Pinkwashing’

Where most might have pink fatigue, one California-based group was formed to call out companies that don’t exactly help the cause -- including fundraisers backed by the Komen foundation.

“We launched ‘Think Before You Pink in 2002,’” said Kim Irish, program manager for Breast Cancer Action. “It’s founded on our concern about the overwhelming number of pink products.”

The group established a pretty specific definition for “pinkwashing.” The term refers to a company that promotes pink-ribboned products, but manufactures products linked to the disease.

Manufacturers of things such as cosmetics, alcohol and cars have been labeled pinkwashers by the group. One such group is Eli Lilly, which Irish said is the sole manufacturer of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), an artificial growth hormone used by farmers to increase milk yields in dairy operations.

The FDA has not banned the substance in the U.S., but countries such as Canada, Japan and countries in the European Union have banned it.

Though a direct link between breast cancer and rBGH has not yet been confirmed, Irish said that scientific studies show that the hormone raises levels of insulin-like growth factor 1. Increases in that hormone have been associated with breast, prostate and colon cancers.

“We subscribe to a cautionary principle,” Irish said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry, and scientific evidence says rBGH is not safe and there is no benefit to using it.”

Kenny said the Komen foundation would not partner with agencies shown to market harmful products. The foundation uses a scientific advisory board to review products before entering into any partnership.

“If we are going to work with a shampoo, then we want to make sure we know all the chemicals in it, and can share that with our scientific advisory board,” Kenny said. “We want to make sure there is no risk of toxic items.”

Skeptical shopping, local efforts

Though Komen and Breast Cancer Action hold competing viewpoints, the two groups have one thing in common: They recommend that shoppers choose products with pink labels carefully.

Shoppers, they say, should check how much money is being donated, and to what group it will be given; for how long donations will be collected; and what it takes for the donation to be made.

“We tell our partners that they should disclose three things,” Kenny said. “The length of the program, the per product donation structure and any minimum guarantee.”

Kenny also said the foundation encourages educational messages, such as prevention information or statistics.

Irish said people should also check the composition of products, and avoid “pink” products that contain harmful ingredients that might be linked to breast cancer.

But the best thing people can do, Burkybile said, is to help locally. Volunteers are always needed, she said, to raise money and help diagnosed women cope.

The Hope 4 You Foundation donates money to the Breast Cancer Foundation for the Ozarks, which uses that money to help local women diagnosed with the disease. The foundation helps pay bills, buy groceries and other immediate, pressing problems. She said local foundations through St. John’s Regional Medical Center and Freeman Health System also raise money for local efforts.

“I’m not against breast cancer research,” Burkybile said. “But if someone really wants to spend money and help out, they should focus on their area. There are a lot of women who aren’t getting help.”

Source : http://www.joplinglobe.com/news/lifestyles/seeing-red-think-pink-efforts-don-t-always-benefit-breast/article_036ba940-ff05-5e80-9627-8e1105f52ce9.html

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