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Diseases shouldn’t be popularity contests

By in Opinions



We all like to think we are doing our part in the fight against disease through donating to causes in one way or another, but what does this mean for finding a cure?

Media has done a large part to contribute to research funding and raise public awareness for diseases such as breast cancer, Alzheimer’s and AIDS. This research has vastly improved detection and survival rates for those diagnosed — as well as patient care during treatment.

Unfortunately, diseases that do not benefit from mass media support do not receive the same positive results. In some instances, the enormous wave of pink support for breast cancer drowns out attempts to bring awareness to other diseases.

In a culture of quick trends it’s easy to pin a little pink ribbon on your collar and go about your day, feeling a little glow in your heart as if you’ve done something good for the world by donning your cool new accessory.

Sound familiar? As harmless as this mindset is, it doesn’t really help anyone if it’s done ignorantly. So let’s take a look at the numbers and, in the words of, “Think before we pink!”

Breast cancer propaganda has become something of a pop culture sensation. One can completely deck themselves out in pink breast cancer gear rivalling the garb of any die-hard Roughrider fan. Mass media noticed the market, and the direness of the disease seems to have been shelved by a ‘pink-washed’ population — a term that refers to the frenzied sale of pink goods by companies focused on profit rather than donations.

Where does the money put towards these disease fighting campaigns actually go? Regrettably, much of the pink themed merchandise doesn’t contribute to research nearly as much as it turns a profit for the company hosting it.

For example, an analysis conducted by on the popular NFL pink campaign shows that it has generated a whopping $9 billion for the league in 2012 alone. But according to, the league has donated only $4. 5 million in total since the pink campaign was first introduced in 2009.

Even more disturbing, the league has taken a pink preference attitude and firmly excludes other diseases from awareness promotion. When wide receiver for the Chicago Bears, Brandon Marshall, tried to bring attention to Mental Health Awareness week during a game on Oct. 10 by wearing green shoes, the NFL reacted by fining him $5, 000 for violating uniform protocol. Marshall paid the fine and matched it with a contribution to charity according to Anna Bisaro from Medill Sports.

Interestingly, the first instance of the colour pink being linked to breast cancer occurred in New York City in 1991, when runners in the Komen Race For The Cure received pink ribbons for their participation.

Susan Komen was a small town woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1976 and lost her battle with the disease in 1982. When Komen was diagnosed, the disease was not well-known or researched and her family could do little to help. The idea for the pink ribbon was introduced by Komen’s sister, Nancy Brinker, who promised to her sister that she would “do whatever she could to end breast cancer forever.”

Since then, awareness for breast cancer has improved greatly and survival rates have also increased in every age group since the mid 90’s. 5-year survival rates are up to 80 per cent for men and 88 per cent for women according to This is fantastic for men and women suffering from breast cancer.

That said, some of the pink breast cancer products not only produce more profit for the companies behind the label, but are actually carcinogenic.

Chevrolet donated $10 for each test drive to the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, but neglected to broadcast the fact that each test drive polluted the air with chemicals known to cause breast cancer.

Furthermore, “women who work in the auto factories are exposed to a range of harmful chemicals, such as benzene, which is used to manufacture rubber tires, chromium and nickel for welding and machining, and formaldehyde in the manufacturing of plastics and textiles, all of which contribute to breast cancer,” according to an article by Karuna Jaggar for

AIDS awareness has also been implemented by a red ribbon campaign. Unfortunately, rates of infection among Canadians have actually grown by 7,300 people since 2008, putting the number at 71,300 at the end of 2011 according to a census by

Even more grim, the number of women with cardiovascular disease has been higher than men since 1994 according to a TED Talks lecture by Noel Bairey Merz, director of the Women’s Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. The reason for this rise is that cardiovascular disease is traditionally thought of as a male disease, and therefore female patterns are not as well researched and harder to diagnose. Heart disease usually strikes very suddenly, whereas breast cancer mortality is down to 4 per cent according to the same lecture.

Our society needs to remember that breast cancer is not the only disease that needs attention and support. It‘s important to research before you donate to causes like breast cancer, as ‘pink-washing’ is increasingly prevalent and it often doesn’t help those suffering from diseases as much as you may think.

Graphic: Cody Schumacher/Graphics Editor

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