The monthlong celebration of breast cancer awareness, now known as "Pinktober," kicked off last week when the mailman delivered our family's copy of Sports Illustrated for Kids. On the cover was a pink-clad NFL-er promoting -- along with everyone else -- breast cancer awareness month, or BCAM.
We have reached the happy point where Pinktober now targets a demographic group of 11.5- year-old boys with a vague "awareness" message. It's hard for me to think of a bigger wasted opportunity for public health education of young men. And this is just the tip of the pink iceberg. Advocates and bloggers have done a nice job of cataloging the egregious examples of pink efforts or pink dollars headed in the wrong direction.
It's gotten to the point where my favorite online advocates are nearly unanimous in their concern that we've over-pinked (read the transcript from this week's breast cancer tweetchat for a sampling). But I'm not sure that Pinktober is a lost cause. Like it or not, breast cancer awareness month has been a huge success.
By almost any measure, breast cancer has been radically transformed in the quarter-century-plus since BCAM began. Death rates are dropping more than 2 percent a year. Every year. For more than two decades. Add that up, and that's a drop in the death rate of 30 percent since 1989. In 1988, three years after BCAM's founding, there were 65 cancer drugs of any sort in development. Today there are 91 for breast cancer alone (though safer, more tolerable drugs should remain a public health priority). National Institution of Health funding for breast cancer quadrupled during the 1990s (and continues to rise). For those reasons, it's not time to walk away from BCAM. Instead, we need a reboot. Let's chuck "awareness" in favor of another element of the disease. An element where awareness and money can really make a difference. Here's my radical idea: Let's make pink about poverty. How do we do that? Four steps:
- Get the facts. Read the American Cancer Society's publication, "Breast Cancer Statistics 2011." Pay special attention to the way that the burden of breast cancer used to fall more heavily on the affluent, before BCAM. Note the way that this has flipped in the past two decades: Poor women are now 7 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than their richer counterparts.
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