The colours of cancer

BreastCancerAwarenessPinkRibbonOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the world around us is turning pink. Professional football players wear pink booties and gloves, NASCAR drivers dress in pink and drive pink cars, and restaurants serve up pink drinks and even pink burgers! In October anything pink sells; everything from pink vacuum cleaners to pink tools and coveralls. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against increasing awareness of the disease that is one of the leading causes of death for Canadian women. It took the life of one of my dearest friends just over nine years ago, but I’m fully behind the “Think before you pink” movement that strives to draw attention to the fact that all is not what it appears to be in the world of pink.

Samantha King is the author of Pink Ribbons, Inc., a 2006 book that examined how breast cancer has become a dream come true for some companies that want to bask in the glow of corporate do-gooding. An associate professor of kinesiology and health studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, King helped popularize the term “pinkwashing” to describe campaigns that flaunt the ubiquitous pink ribbon but have negligible effects on the realities of breast cancer. Some companies use pink ribbon related marketing to increase sales while contributing only a tiny fraction of the proceeds to the cause, or use pinkwashing to improve their public image while manufacturing products that may, in fact, be carcinogenic.

Any company can put pink ribbons on its products. When purchasing cancer awareness products, be a savvy shopper. Check the label or tag and ensure that a percentage of the purchase price is actually going to a recognizable foundation or non-profit organization. Oftentimes, making a direct donation to your favourite cancer charity is actually a better way to go.

Is pink the only colour of cancer though? Absolutely not! In fact, there are awareness ribbons in practically every colour imaginable, each one representing a different cancer. Ovarian cancer is teal, uterine cancer peach, liver cancer emerald green and colon cancer dark blue. Prostate cancer is light blue, testicular cancer orchid, leukemia orange and mesothelioma royal blue.

And what of my cancers? Head and neck cancers are burgundy and white, but that one is gone, hopefully for good. This is the ribbon that I wear:

zebra ribbon

The zebra stripe represents neuroendocrine (NETS) and carcinoid cancers. It’s not surprising that we zebras don’t get as much attention as those pink people do. After all, there aren’t very many of us. In Canada, specific numbers for neuroendocrine cancer are not even reported separately, but in the US there are an estimated 8000 new cases each year. Compared to the approximately 294 500 new cases of breast cancer that are expected to be diagnosed in that country in 2015, that’s a very tiny number, but we need awareness too. There are family doctors who have never heard of neuroendocrine cancer. They have no idea what it is, how it’s treated or that it’s incurable. A locum filling in at our local hospital actually questioned whether I had cancer at all!

NETS not pink

Blogs devoted to NET cancer awareness:


3 thoughts on “The colours of cancer

  1. So true. Pink is not my favourite colour. BC is not the only cancer and men also get BC. We tend to forget that. In the past year we’ve given out 2 quilts to men just in our little area; I wonder what they think about pink. There are so many cancers and I think it time we gave more energy to others.

  2. Pingback: Great news! | Following Augustine

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