Breast Cancer Society and Culture

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Origin of the pink ribbon

In 1982, Nancy G. Brinker formed the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. She formed it to honor her sister who was fighting the cancer. The organization was dedicated to fighting breast cancer and originated the Race for the Cure fitness walk and fundraiser in 1983.

This race since then is an international event, with more than 1.6 million participants in over 140 races. In 1990 the race was held in Washington, D.C. where the Komen Foundation distributed pink visors to participants. The following year, at a walk in New York City, the organization handed out symbolic pink ribbons. Since then the pink ribbon has become a symbol of fight against breast cancer.

Breast cancer then and now

For many years breast cancer was shut behind closed doors with many women too embarrassed or scared to get themselves examined or checked by their physicians for breast cancer. This has often led to late detection of the cancer and has caused innumerable deaths due to this cancer.

Even today many cultures worldwide, especially in developing countries in Asia or under developed countries in Africa getting screened or even checked for breast cancer is not routinely practiced.

In the West, the breast cancer advocacy movement began in the 1990’s and it brought forth many issues regarding getting second opinions before surgery, less invasive surgical procedures, breast reconstruction and use of prosthetics for artificial breast after surgery. The advocacy movement supported individual opinions and helped support them to make informed choices regarding treatment. This led to other advances in patient care as well.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is observed in October for survivors, family and friends of survivors and/or victims of the disease. For whole of this month, the symbolic pink ribbon is worn to salute and recognize the struggle against this deadly and common cancer.

Breast cancer awareness also has its roots in breast awareness and propagation of breast self-exam by all women over 50. Awareness of one’s own breast is sometimes the first step in detecting an abnormality in the breast and seeking investigation and support.

Pink for October is an initiative started by Matthew Oliphant. It asks the sites willing to help make people aware of breast cancer to change their template or layout to include the color pink. This may lead to increase worldwide awareness regarding breast cancer. The patron saint of breast cancer is Agatha of Sicily.

Breast cancer in men

After the pink ribbon came, the pink and blue ribbon that went out to spread the message that men can get breast cancer too, albeit rarely. It was designed by Nancy Nick, President and Founder of the John W. Nick Foundation in 1996.

In 2009 Out of the Shadow of Pink, A Man's Pink and the Brandon Greening Foundation for Breast Cancer in Men came together to make third week of October as Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Sep 22, 2013

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