Pink ribbon doesn’t always mean charity

    Breast cancer awareness groups come out in full force each October to paint the town pink. Increasingly, consumer products are also carrying the symbolic pink ribbon.

    Each October, breast cancer awareness groups splash pink over anything they can: the Philadelphia skyline, athletes’ uniforms, food packages, and more. WHYY’s health and science reporter Kerry Grens reports on some who say the pink ribbon may be misleading.

    Listen: [audio:091021kgbreast.mp3]

    Often, that ubiquitous pink ribbon says: look at me, I’m here to help cure breast cancer. And the cost of whatever it’s attached to — say, a t-shirt — will partially go to pay for research.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    But not always. The use of the pink ribbon is not regulated. Kasha Ho is the program manager of Breast Cancer Action.

    Ho: Just by seeing the pink ribbon on a product you really don’t know whether or not any money of your purchase is being donated toward breast cancer research or funding. And many times the money that is donated goes back into marketing the product itself.

    Heather Hibshman is the director of Pennsylvania’s Breast Cancer Coalition. She advises people to check labels and see where — or if — money is being donated.

    Hibshman: Because sometimes it’ll say, benefits breast cancer awareness. Well, what does that mean? Who is that going to? What organization does it go to? So yes, consumers have to be diligent about where those dollars end up.

    Critics say some companies are exploiting people’s suffering to boost sales.

    Arnold Baskies is the president elect of the American Cancer Society’s eastern division. He says he sympathizes with women who might feel exploited by the consumer side of breast cancer fundraising. But tens of millions of dollars are raised through pink ribbon campaigns.

    At the end of the day there are more dollars raised and spent for breast cancer in this decade than ever before and the only reason for that is because of the fact that more people are willing to come out and talk about the disease and make it known there is a way to treat it and a way to screen for it.

    Hibshman says that, for the most part, pink ribbons have been successful at raising the profile of breast cancer awareness while raising funding for research.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal