Once again, Breast Cancer Awareness month has come to an end. And, apart from promoting the ongoing love affair between breast cancer and pink, what have we achieved?
The history and mammograms
According to Wikipedia, Breast Cancer Awareness Month was founded in 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of Imperial Chemical Industries, who have since merged with another organisation. The aim of the month was to promote mammography as the most effective weapon in the fight against breast cancer.
We are now in a time when mammograms and their effectiveness in saving lives are being brought into question- Prof Sir Mike Richards, the government’s cancer chief, is launching an investigation into our screening programme; its benefits and the risks it poses. You can read Breast Cancer Partnership’s views here. So have we cancer charities continued to promote mammograms even while they are brought into question, or have we found a new message and cause to promote during October? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
Think more than pink
The month has become a huge fundraising vehicle for cancer charities, a revenue driver for the businesses supporting them and even a marketing line for businesses that have no association with the charities at all.
Fundraising is essential for charities, and this opportunity must be used. We need to market ourselves effectively to survive, raise vital funds and maintain a credible and independent voice. However, there is room for us to be much more responsible. The women we are asking to fundraise for us are the very women we need to communicate with about prevention and detection. Too often fundraising and other messages are separated, and much of the fundraising materials we have seen encourage behaviours that cancer charities should be firmly against:
• Drinking alcohol- pink cocktails and champagne are a firm favourite when fundraising
• Eating fatty foods- cakes, cupcakes and bacon sandwiches have all made appearances
• Consuming high amounts of sugar- pink biscuits, macaroons, jars full of sweets
All of the above are unhealthy habits that lead to women developing breast cancer. They are fun and they do raise money, but promoting these behaviours is inefficient and short-sighted.
Promoting and prevention
While detecting and curing breast cancer has been the popular message for many years, prevention has been all but ignored. Even our Prime Minister, who released a statement about Breast Cancer Awareness month, failed to mention the importance of prevention. Even though his Government want to see the NHS move towards health prevention mention:
“I’m delighted we are able help raise awareness of breast cancer, a disease that affects thousands of women every year, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Tackling cancer is a priority for this Government and we want to raise survival rates to be among the best in Europe. Early detection can massively increase the chances of survival which is why fantastic campaigns like this are so important. I hope seeing 10 Downing Street go pink will inspire other people to get involved.”
Now what? More than just pink ribbons
It is time we stopped patronising women. We need to help them understand the choices they can make to protect themselves from a disease which is becoming ever more prevalent. Which is why Cancer Recovery Foundation has launched Breast Cancer Partnership: To protect, pioneer and support women against breast cancer.
World Cancer Research Fund has proven that 42% of breast cancer cases can be prevented thanks to a change in diet and more exercise. And the number of breast cancer cases we could prevent may be as high as 75%, if we encourage and adopt other lifestyle change including stress management and ensuring every woman has adequate levels of vitamin D.
Of course Breast Cancer Partnership we will be out fundraising with the best of them, but our very first campaign- sent to 30,000 women across the country- will tell them not only what we do, but what they can do; with handbag sized tip cards about preventing and detecting breast cancer. Fundraising and advancing the charity’s aims in one envelope.
Hannah Bellamy is Executive Director of the Cancer Recovery Foundation (www.cancerrecovery.org.uk)
Photo credit : scottchan