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Why is pink the color for cancer?

Why is pink the color for cancer?

Pink has become synonymous with breast cancer awareness and fundraising efforts. The pink ribbon is the worldwide symbol of breast cancer awareness. You see the color pink used prominently during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month every October. But why is pink specifically associated with breast cancer?

History of the Pink Ribbon

The pink ribbon was originated by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the most prominent breast cancer organization in the United States. In the early 1990s, Self magazine and Estée Lauder cosmetics partnered together to distribute pink ribbons and promote breast cancer awareness. This was inspired by the AIDS awareness movement’s use of red ribbons.

The pink ribbon was handed out at the 1991 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure event in New York City. It quickly became the symbol of their organization and breast cancer awareness in general. Since then, the ribbon has been mass produced for breast cancer events and fundraising purposes.

Pink as a Feminine Color

The color pink is often associated with femininity in Western cultures. It is believed Komen chose pink because breast cancer primarily affects women. Pink is socially considered a “girly” color appropriate for a woman’s disease.

Studies have shown that the color pink evokes feelings of nurturance, warmth, and femininity. Marketers capitalize on these associations which is why pink is used heavily to market products towards women. The pink ribbon builds off pink’s feminine connotations.

Year New Breast Cancer Cases in US
2000 182,000
2005 211,000
2010 207,000
2015 231,000
2020 276,000

Breast Cancer Primarily Affects Women

Breast cancer is overwhelmingly a woman’s disease, though men can get it as well. Looking at statistics in the United States:

  • About 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime.
  • Only about 1 in 1000 men will ever develop breast cancer.
  • In 2022, an estimated 287,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
  • About 2,710 new cases will be diagnosed in men.

So while not exclusive to women, breast cancer affects females at drastically higher rates than males. The pink ribbon and color pink focuses on femininity to represent this disparity.

Does the Color Pink Benefit Breast Cancer Causes?

There has been some debate over whether the heavy use of pink actually benefits breast cancer patients and programs. On one hand, the pink ribbon has brought tremendous awareness to the disease. It is now one of the most universally recognized health symbols.

However, some argue that too much pink overload trivializes a deadly serious women’s health issue. Rather than educating, the color pink now signals consumers to make purchases for “breast cancer awareness.” Critics believe the consumerism has gone overboard.

There are also complaints that the color pink perpetuates gender stereotypes, excluding men with breast cancer. Some advocate for more gender-neutral colors like white or gold. Overall, the pink ribbon seems too established to change at this point, for better or worse. It does resonate strongly with donors and participants of events like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

Pinkwashing Products

There are concerns over the practice of “pinkwashing” – when companies sell pink-themed products to boost profits under the guise of supporting breast cancer causes. There are countless consumer goods dyed pink and sold for breast cancer every October. But often the money is not contributed to research or patients. Consumers have become suspicious of overuse of pink marketing ploys.

Some examples of pinkwashing products:

  • Yoplait yogurt sold pink lids on their cups and for every lid, donated 10 cents to Susan G. Komen. But a customer would have to eat about 240 cups of yogurt to donate $24 towards breast cancer.
  • A Smith & Wesson gun company sold a pink handgun and donated 15% of proceeds from the gun to a breast cancer charity.
  • Mike’s Hard Lemonade sold a pink alcoholic drink but did not disclose how much money was donated from sales.
  • KitchenAid mixers, blenders, and other appliances are sold in pink with a vague promise of giving to breast cancer.

While charitable in theory, most pinkwashed products do not result in meaningful contributions to the cause. The pink branding is misleading to consumers. Companies have faced backlash over pinkwashing perceived as insincere.

Think Before You Pink

Breast cancer non-profits urge consumers to be informed about pink products. The Think Before You Pink campaign advises:

  • Research if the product really benefits breast cancer funds and how much.
  • Is the company transparent about its contributions?
  • Is the product itself harmful, like alcoholic drinks?
  • Consider whether thepurchase actually aligns with breast cancer needs.

Following these tips avoids buying into empty marketing ploys. Companies should also adhere to ethical pink practices.

Pink Has Raised Billions for Awareness

For all the criticisms, the abundance of pink has undeniably increased visibility and money for breast cancer organizations. The National Cancer Institute reported that breast cancer awareness stands at a historic high of over 90% acknowledgment among women. Much of this is attributed to the success of pink campaigns.

Susan G. Komen sees record high turnouts at their pink-drenched races and events every year. The organization has raised over $3 billion dollars total towards cancer research and patient support programs. Whatever its flaws, the pink branding continues to attract public interest and dollars towards combating this disease.

Pink Helps Fund Research Breakthroughs

The billions raised in pink funding have fueled major research advancements in detecting and treating breast cancer. Here are some examples:

  • Herceptin, a targeted therapy drug treating aggressive HER2-positive breast cancer. It has been called a breakthrough therapy for extending survival.
  • Improvements in genetic testing helps doctors determine patients’ risk factors and guide preventative care.
  • Breast MRI scans along with mammograms can better screen high-risk patients.
  • More minimally invasive biopsy procedures successfully diagnose cancer earlier.

Money donated to foundations like Susan G. Komen is utilized to fund promising research with real lifesaving results.

Pink Promotes Early Detection

Along with funding new technology for detecting breast cancer sooner, the pink campaign has prioritized educating women on screening tests. The goal is diagnosing at early stages when it is most treatable. Aggressive promotion of:

  • Monthly self-exams for unusual lumps or changes.
  • Clinical breast exams as part of annual ob-gyn visits.
  • Routine mammograms yearly starting at 40.

has led more abnormalities being caught early. Thanks to pink awareness efforts, women are checking for the signs of breast cancer.

More Patient Support Programs

Money collected through pink fundraising allows organizations to operate support programs for patients and survivors. Susan G. Komen has a help hotline, transportation assistance to treatment, meal delivery, childcare, temporary financial aid, and more services to nurture patients through difficult treatments. These kinds of programs are essential for women facing breast cancer to have the endurance and hope to continue their fight.


The pink ribbon is now an iconic symbol of breast cancer. While the explosion of pink causes marketing fatigue and questions of ethics, it undeniably keeps a crucial spotlight on a disease affecting millions of women. Critics still debate if there is too much pinkwashing diluting its importance. But the end monetary and awareness boosting results for breast cancer are real, lifesaving, and makes embracing some pink positivity worthwhile.