Welcome to October! We’re back for another little Think Dirty History Lesson. This time, we want to talk about Breast Cancer Month.
As you likely know from the flood of pink ribbon products, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We, however, prefer to call it Breast Cancer Prevention Month, as we believe the focus should be on preventative measures. The concept of Awareness Month has garnered some criticism in the past and even today.
As a female-founded and run company, this issue is very close to our hearts. We work to spread awareness about our daily exposure to harmful and carcinogenic ingredients and chemicals through commonly used products. Just as with breast cancer, this high level of exposure disproportionately impacts women.
In 1985, the American Cancer Society partnered with Imperial Chemical Industries to create the first Breast Cancer Month. Imperial Chemical Industries, now part of AstraZeneca (one of the largest global pharmaceutical companies), is known for their breast cancer drugs. AstraZeneca’s initial motivation for the creation of the Month and promotion of breast cancer screening programs was financial. The company realized that it would be more cost-effective to conduct breast cancer screenings rather than incur the much higher costs if the cancer were discovered at a later stage.
This, combined with the fact that pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca directly profit from increased cases of cancer, has been met with criticism.
The aim of the Month was, and still is, a little vague. Their stated goal (on a now-defunct website) was to promote awareness of “breast cancer issues”. They also emphasized the importance of screening and annual mammograms.
Now, the Month has largely been co-opted by corporations and companies looking to capitalize on the movement. Some people find the commercialization of the mission problematic. On the one hand, it’s great to promote education about the issue and encourage people to get screened. On the other hand, many companies are using the Month solely for corporate promotion and gain. The cause and associated pink ribbon, have become a very successful marketing ploy.
Don’t get us wrong, many breast cancer nonprofits and charities are doing amazing and critical work in to reduce the prevalence of breast cancer. The Month is a great tool for them to promote their cause. One positive result of the movement is that it has encouraged woman to take preventative measures to help protect themselves.
Though the idea was developed initially by corporations, the Prevention Month is still a good tool that can be used to educate about prevention methods and working towards finding treatment options.