October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Most everyone is aware of what a pink cancer ribbon represents, and throughout October, many organizations recognize National Breast Cancer Awareness month using the color pink.
It is a great way to promote screening and prevention of the disease, which will affect one in eight women in the United States during her lifetime, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). In 2023 alone, the NBCF says, it is estimated that nearly 300,000 women and 2,800 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
But why the color pink—and is the usage of the color the best way to spread breast cancer awareness and fundraise for better treatments, preventions, and cures?
“With all the good that can come from this awareness, I was surprised to find that although many people feel supported by the month’s events, other breast cancer survivors do not like Breast Cancer Awareness month at all,” said Emily Heath, Clinical Research and Outreach Nurse at The Hormel Institute. “Many people are offended by companies using pink ribbons to promote their products and raising a large amount of money, with only a small portion going to breast cancer research.”
This feeling is prevalent enough that “pinkwashing” in relation to breast cancer is a term with its own Wikipedia page. And the origin story of the pink breast cancer ribbon may not be too far off from those who find its usage “too commercial.”
Here’s how the NBCF tells it: During the early 1990s, a woman named Charlotte Haley distributed thousands of homemade ribbons—ribbons that were a shade of peach. Attached to the ribbons were cards calling for more cancer funding to directly support cancer prevention.
“The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon,” the card said.
As word of Haley’s grassroots message spread, she was approached by the editor of Self magazine, who was preparing a special edition for breast cancer awareness at the time, but Haley declined any offers for partnership, feeling that it was “too corporate.”
For legal reasons, Self magazine and others ultimately proceeded in using a pink ribbon to spread breast cancer awareness instead. The image clearly took off, and now, the pink breast cancer ribbon is one of the most widely recognized cancer awareness symbols.
It should be celebrated that Austin’s Paint the Town Pink (PTTP) event is special in that, thanks to the support of The Hormel Foundation, 100% of the donations received go directly to research. Community-funded Paint the Town Pink seed grants allow scientists to research exciting and innovative ideas to better prevent and control cancer.
Each seed grant allows a scientist to collect initial data they can then use to apply for larger, national grants. These research ideas would not be possible without Paint the Town Pink.
And breast cancer research is making large strides. Thanks to advances in early detection and treatment, plus increasing understanding about risk factors that can lead to breast cancer, the NBCF says that the five-year relative survival rate is 99% when diagnosed in early, localized stages.
At The Hormel Institute, we understand that this month means different things to different people.
“Some want to celebrate in head-to-toe pink, while others feel unseen, and still others may quietly observe the month. We want those affected to know that we support all ways of observance, and we are doing everything we can to continue inspiring discoveries that improve and extend human life,” said Heath.
To learn more about breast cancer risk factors, guidance for early detection, and more resources, the NBCF website, Mayo Clinic website, and UMN’s Masonic Cancer Center website are just a few of the many resources you can turn to.