Given the flood of pink that washes over the world during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and beyond, it would be easy to believe that breast cancer is the only cancer that exists—except it isn't.
The exploitation of breast cancer (and the pink ribbon) minimizes the experience of breast cancer patients and ignores individuals with other types of cancer. This has left a group of cancer sufferers feeling forgotten and invisible.
Indeed, breast cancer is very common. However, as common as it is, female breast cancer only accounts for 12.3 percent of new cancer cases worldwide. What about the other 87.7 percent?
The Other 87.7 Percent
Excluding breast cancer (which accounts for 12.3% of new cancer cases in the world), the ten most common types of cancer in both sexes are:
- Lung cancer (12.3%)
- Colorectal cancer (10.6%)
- Prostate cancer (7.5%)
- Stomach cancer (6.1%)
- Liver cancer (5%)
- Esophagus cancer (3.4%)
- Cervix Uteri cancer (3.3%)
- Thyroid cancer (3.3%)
- Bladder cancer (3.2%)
- Non-Hodgkins lymphoma (3%)
Including breast cancer, these ten cancers combined account for 69.8% of all new cancer cases in the world, with the remaining 30.2% percent being scattered across many other less common cancers. (Data from World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research).
You may be surprised to learn that, like breast cancer, many of these cancers have ribbons and awareness months. Unlike breast cancer, however, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone sporting a green ribbon for Liver Cancer Awareness Month (which is also in October), or wearing a shirt adorned with a white ribbon in November to support lung cancer awareness (despite the fact that lung cancer is just as common as breast cancer). Why is that? To put it simply: breast cancer sells in a way that no other cancer can.
The Business of Breast Cancer
Western society is breast-obsessed. This made it easy for corporations to sexualize breast cancer and turn it into a cash-cow. After all, its hard to sensationalize and make people acknowledge cancer of a "non-sexy" body part, such as the stomach, esophagus, or gallbladder.
Breast cancer awareness month is all about lovely pink ribbons, cutesy slogans like "Save the TaTas," and, of course, breasts. Breast cancer is often portrayed in the media and advertisements as something that is cute and sexy, when it is actually a horrible, scary, and life-threatening disease. However, by presenting breast cancer in a warm, breast-centric way, companies are able to sell pink ribbon products—and they're able to sell a lot of them.
The good thing: the increased awareness for breast cancer through advertising and the sales of products oftentimes results in donations to cancer research. The bad thing: the commercialization of the disease results in people with non-breast cancers and people with breast cancer being effectively erased from the narrative.
For more information on pinkwashing, see this article.
Cancer is Horrible
The fact of the matter? All cancer is horrible. Besides the boobs and the pretty pink ribbons, a big reason why breast cancer gets so much attention is the misguided outlook created by focusing on early stage breast cancer. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the five year survival rate for localized (early stage) breast cancer is 99%. That is a very positive prognosis, but it doesn't tell the whole story.
People don't like to talk about liver cancer, which has a 22% five year survival rate; pancreatic cancer, which has an 8.2% five year survival rate; lung cancer, which has an 18.1% five year survival rate; or even stage 4 breast cancer, which has a 27% five year survival rate, because its sad, painful and hard to talk about. (Data from National Cancer Institute / American Cancer Society)
But here's the thing: cancer is sad, painful, and hard. We need to talk about what cancer is really like if we want to raise real, meaningful awareness. It may be hard, but it's important.
Raising Real Awareness
It's easy to see why so many of the 87.7% of cancer patients who have non-breast cancers feel neglected. While the world wears pink ribbons, they have been left out, brushed off, and forgotten. But it doesn't have to be that way. How can we change the script to include all cancer patients and survivors?
We believe the best way to do this isn't through selling products or wearing ribbons; its through telling the stories of people fighting cancer. Hearing the voices of patients and acknowledging their pain brings awareness to what really matters: the lives of those affected by cancer.
At the end of day, we don't need more pink things, or blue things, or green things. What we really need to do is show how cancer affects the people we know and love, and find a cure for cancer—all cancer.
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