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Is purple the color for all cancers?

Is purple the color for all cancers?

Cancer affects millions of people worldwide each year. Though there are many different types of cancer, they share some common experiences. One experience many cancer patients and survivors share is the use of the color purple. The color is often used symbolically for cancer awareness and fundraising efforts. But why purple? And is it the right color to represent all cancers equally? This article will examine the connections between the color purple and cancer, look at some history behind cancer color choices, and discuss whether purple is the right universal color for cancer.

Why Purple for Cancer?

There are a few key reasons why purple became one of the representative colors for cancer:

Purple is a Mix of Pink and Blue

Early cancer awareness efforts would often use colors associated with gender – breast cancer groups gravitated towards pink while prostate cancer groups used blue. As more cancers became part of public campaigns, purple emerged as a blend of feminine pink and masculine blue to represent all types of cancer.

Purple Represents Magic and Mystery

The color purple has long been associated with magic, mystery, and the unconscious in color psychology. This can connect nicely to the unknowns and uncertainties around cancer and cancer research. Using purple can evoke a sense of the disease being mysterious, unfamiliar, and requiring research to unravel its complexities.

Purple is Associated with Transformation

The color purple is often used to represent personal transformation. Cancer also brings significant life changes and personal growth for many patients and survivors. The color is a symbolic representation of the transformation many people go through with cancer.

Purple is a Color of Compassion

Compassion is at the core of many cancer care practices and purple conveys compassion in color psychology. The color purple can bring feelings of sensitivity and empathy, both critical components of cancer care.

A Brief History of Cancer Color Usage

To better understand why purple became a key color for cancers, it helps to look at how cancer color associations developed over time. Here are some key events in the history of cancer colors:

1991 Susan G. Komen launches a pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer awareness.
1996 The first PurpleStride run/walk event raises funds for pancreatic cancer research.
1997 The National Prostate Cancer Coalition starts using light blue in educational materials.
1998 The Lavender Ribbon is introduced as a symbol for all types of cancers.
1999 The Periwinkle Pals program uses periwinkle (a light purple) to promote childhood cancer awareness.
2000s More cancer types adopt their own colors, but purple remains a key universal color.

As the table shows, many cancer awareness efforts started by adopting colors linked to a specific cancer type or demographic. Breast cancer took pink, prostate cancer light blue, and childhood cancers moved towards purple tones like periwinkle.

But as the number of cancer types and campaigns grew, it became clear that having a color for each cancer would be impractical. A universal color was needed to represent cancer more broadly.

Purple emerged as this universal color in the late 90s, with the Lavender Ribbon campaign. Its blend of pink and blue made it inclusive of different groups. And its blend into periwinkle created a lighter, fresher version of purple well-suited for children.

So purple became the key universal color for all cancers. But is this truly the right choice?

Limitations of Purple as a Universal Cancer Color

While purple has many positive associations, there are some limitations in using it as a one-size-fits-all cancer color:

Very Little Native Meaning for Most Cancers

Unlike pink for breast cancer or blue for prostate cancer, purple has no inherent or historical connection to most specific cancer types. So it risks feeling arbitrary rather than meaningful.

Doesn’t Reflect Range of Cancer Experiences

No one color can reflect the wide range of emotions and experiences people have with cancer. Purple evokes compassion but not more challenging feelings like anger or fear that are also part of cancer journeys.

Links More to Women’s Cancers

Purple’s pink tones mean it is still more heavily associated with feminine cancers than masculine ones, like prostate and testicular cancers.

Difficult Color for Visual Accessibility

Light purple tones can be difficult to identify for some color blind individuals. Brighter, bolder colors provide better visual accessibility.

So while purple has meaningful symbolic connections to cancer, it also has weaknesses as a single representative color. A smarter approach may be…

Using Multiple Colors for Cancer Awareness

Rather than trying to find one perfect color for cancer, awareness and fundraising efforts can be more inclusive by incorporating multiple colors.

Some ways to do this include:

Retaining Original Cancer Type Colors

Continue using historical colors like pink (breast cancer) and blue (prostate cancer) when appropriate. This retains meaning.

Letting Communities Choose Their Own Colors

Rather than prescribing a color, let local organizers select colors that resonate for their groups. People will connect more to colors they choose.

Using Color Palettes Instead of Single Colors

Palettes with multiple colors give flexibility to incorporate different communities and symbolic meanings.

Selecting Accessible Color combos

Combine colors carefully so combos work for color blind and visually impaired individuals.

Tying Color to Emotions

Beyond specific cancers, link colors to shared experiences like hope, compassion, courage rather than just tumors or organs.

With thoughtful color selections, campaigns can honor unique cancer experiences while still promoting empathy and shared understanding between communities.


While the color purple has become a staple of cancer awareness and numerous cancer-related campaigns and materials use various shades of purple, it has limitations as a one-size-fits-all representation of cancer. Cancers affect diverse groups and purple cannot capture the full spectrum of emotions and experiences people have.

Using more inclusive color palettes and letting communities select colors meaningful to them allows for cancer awareness that embraces both the shared elements as well as the vast differences between various cancer experiences. Purposeful color choices will create materials and campaigns that speak to more people in more meaningful ways.

So rather than locking in purple as the singular cancer color, people working in cancer awareness should think flexibly about color in order to be welcoming to all those impacted by cancer. No one color fits all, but many colors together can create a more holistic picture of the cancer journey.