It’s Not About Boobs

I do not like Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Each year between August and October, the color of Autumn is not the reds, browns and yellows of the changing season, but pink.  Massive breast cancer-themed athletic events are held around the country.  Free mammograms are conducted.  Buddy check programs are promoted on the evening news.  In Denver, many buildings are adorned with giant metal pink ribbons, and many companies use this time of year to promote their partnerships with breast cancer organizations by incorporating the ubiquitous pink ribbon into their corporate logo.

My local stores are blanketed with pink products:  Hats, t-shirts, wristbands, yogurt containers, laundry soaps, coffee, and cereal, to name a few of the myriad items one can buy, with a small percentage of the sales going to breast cancer organizations…pink is prevalent.

Save the “Ta-Ta’s!” one t-shirt proclaims.


A woman is more than her boobs.  Let’s focus on saving the whole woman.

Breast cancer is but one of the cancers killing women across the United States.  Lung, colorectal and gynecological cancers affect tens of thousands of American women each year.  In the U.S. lung cancer now kills as many women as breast cancer and all gynecological cancers combined.

Yet breast cancer is the “popular” cancer for women, and it gets the majority of the funding and publicity and celebrity involvement, far overshadowing the other cancers.  It’s worth mentioning that breast cancer is not exclusively a woman’s disease.  Statistics for 2009 projected that about 1,910 cases of breast cancer were expected to occur among men, accounting for about 1% of all breast cancers, with approximately 440 men dying from breast cancer.

For women, 2009 statistics predicted 254,600 cases of breast cancer in women, with 40,170 women dying from the disease.

To be completely transparent, I have 2 female friends engaged in active war with breast cancer, both under 40.  My grandmother survived breast cancer, and I have many other friends who are breast cancer survivors.  I’m also a cancer warrior through my work as a fundraiser and global volunteer leader with LIVESTRONG.  Lung cancer killed my dad.  I hate cancer.

The focus and funding currently put forth each year for breast cancer research and awareness would be better spent developing a comprehensive women’s cancer initiative that deals with all cancers targeting women, not just breast cancer.  This would require a unification of the various breast cancer organizations and programs into one unified coalition, something that does not exist today.  Arguably, the yearly spotlight that shines on breast cancer would dim a bit as resources are directed away from that cancer and much needed attention is shifted toward fighting the “other” women’s cancers, but overall the result would be a positive one.

The various forms of cancer have different effects on the human body, and require different forms of treatment, awareness education and advocacy, and different patient support organizations should continue to exist.  Spotlighting one form of cancer over another only serves to weaken the entire war effort against cancer.

The only way cancer—all cancer—will be defeated is through a cohesive public, private and governmental partnership that is focused on cancer in general, not one specific type of cancer.


11 thoughts on “It’s Not About Boobs

  1. Dear Erik,

    I couldn´t agree more!!! Lets focus on the war on all cancer, not single out one. Let´s ride for that in Austin soon! Thanks, Annemieke

  2. As a woman and as a cervical cancer survivor I agree with your post. But as someone who lost her dad to lung cancer and sees the disparities in survival rates, treatments, funding and research- I personally think we need to start with the most deadly and least funded, narrow that gap, so that one day we can treat ALL cancers in a cohesive way.

  3. Another way to look at the Breast Cancer Awareness effort is to see what there was before that – very little.

    The effort is prompting awareness, screenings, support, and financial contributions from big brand companies. Those are all good things that were not being promoted in the same way before the pink ribbons came out.

    My mom and grandfather passed away from colon cancer and my dad is a prostrate cancer survivor. I wish ALL forms of cancer would go away AND also applaud groups that mobilize to stomp out any of them.

    Thanks for addressing the issue and supporting efforts to defeat cancer.

  4. Neither agree nor disagree.

    “Spotlighting one form of cancer over another only serves to weaken the entire war effort against cancer. The only way cancer—all cancer—will be defeated is through a cohesive public, private and governmental partnership that is focused on cancer in general, not one specific type of cancer.”

    I don’t personally find these two things to be mutually exclusive. That I have/had a blood cancer rather than solid organ tumor was, in my opinion, just one of many possible outcomes due to the biochemical roll of the dice. Having said that, research is definitely synergistic, and I believe what is learned about one type of cancer illuminates others. So, I’m definitely OK with the pink, even though it isn’t “my” cancer. I do strongly agree, however, that we need more collaboration in research efforts and unification in funding, advocation, and awareness.

    If we really want to step on the gas towards advancements, we as a society need to stop demonizing Pharma, and rather allow them to profit from the risk only their R&D departments can manage.


  5. Perhaps the key that unlocks the code for breast cancer may also reveal how to combat & prevent ALL cancer. My approach to life is non~competitive which impacts my views upon situations. Any focus upon eradicating one way cancer enters the body will shed light on the way it manifests itself in all places. Rather than limit or ration the attention that breast cancer is now receiving, let’s put the pressure on increasing awareness & solutions for cancer research in total.
    At times I’ve felt that companies selling products take advantage of trying to sell their products by putting a pink ribbon on it. Cancer has become too sanitized in order to make it tolerable in our society. We are afraid to depict what it truly ravages from us. It’s not a pink fuzzy wuzzy. I agreee that the October breast cancer selling fest gets obnoxious by economic manipulation of companies trying to garner attention.
    The thing that I most proudly wear is my YELLOW LIVESTRONG bracelet. This company is the epitome of what you’re are speaking of. This was a heartfelt & thought provoking blog. Well Done.

  6. Interesting. I would absolutely agree that breast cancer grabs all the headlines and is almost seen as a “trendy” cancer. The issue I have with the October pink-washing is the overwhelming number of pink ribbon products and promotions on the market. Where is the transparency and accountability for companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising? I also have an issue with those companies that purport to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon campaign, but manufacture products that are linked to the disease.

  7. I agree and disagree as well.
    Although the commercializing of the Pink Ribbon circus has done a lot of good in terms of breast cancer awareness and has created a much needed openness about this sensitive subject, there is the risk of turning a serious topic like breast cancer into a fashion statement. The objective should always be to create awareness and to raise funds for research and prevention, not to let smart businessmen make a buck or two.
    That being said I do agree on your comment about all the attention for breast cancer taking the attention away from all those other deadly forms of the disease. It is not just about the boobs. There are far more lethal cancers out there that could use the attention and the funding. And lung cancer is definitely on top of that list.
    Thanks for your insights, my friend. Keep up all the great work you are doing for LiveSTRONG. Cancer doesn’t stand a chance.

  8. I couldn’t agree with Katie Brown more. I would be more pink happy if December leading into January left retail outlets showered in teal blue – to raise awareness for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.

    I think breast cancer awareness is easier to be acceptable because a) it’s not below the belt b) basic detection is a little less invasive c) it attacks a visually obvious characteristic of what most people feel defines femininity and d) talking about boobies and being able to say “tata” is a hell of a lot more fun than getting to say “cervix,” a lot sexier than saying “pancreas,” and less dirty than saying “colo-rectal.”

    From a marketing perspective, it’s a dream.

    From a realistic perspective? It sounds like all you have to do is bathe yourself in pink and let someone feel you up once in a while and you’re immune to cancer.

    Would that it were that easy.

    I say, 12 months, 365 days a year, let’s shower the world with yellow. One month a year, add some pink, but let’s not forget the teal, light blue for thyroid and prostate cancer, lime green for lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, etc, etc, etc…

  9. I think one of the most important statements you made here is this: A woman is more than her boobs. Let’s focus on saving the whole woman.

    Many women don’t realize how much of their feminine identity is wrapped up in their breasts until they face the reality of cancer. I’ve known women who have refused to self-examine because they are afraid of what will happen if they find out they have cancer. There’s no rhyme or reason to the “logic” of this mindset, but it is there.

    Cancer is something we all have to fight. And we have to fight all of it.

  10. Pingback: Breast Cancer In Their Own Words: 5 Women Speak |

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