Ribbons for Every Day of the Week

OCTOBER 29, 2013
rainbowEveryone recognizes the association between pink ribbons and breast cancer awareness—especially in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But few people are familiar with the color of ribbons associated with lung (white), pancreatic (purple), or head and neck (burgundy/ivory) cancers. Given current research and treatment options, as well as a commitment to equality, isn’t it time to imagine a rainbow coalition?
 
Breast cancer activists have brilliantly organized to heighten public awareness of a disease that threatens many women. Support groups, conferences, run/walk events, and branded clothing raise money for research and aim to help individual women confront a breast cancer diagnosis. As a result of this dedication and determination to battle breast cancer, however, many women diagnosed with other types of cancer may feel they are fighting the “the wrong color of cancer.”
 
After all, many women are diagnosed each year with “below the belt” cancers. But these cancers rarely get the attention, information, and care they need. Even though advertisements tell us about erectile dysfunction and prostate cancer (light blue), why do we remain hesitant to freely and publicly discuss “lady parts”? This hesitancy may be contributing to the debilitating silence surrounding gynecological cancers. I also wonder about colorectal cancers (dark blue) that affect men as well as women. Unfortunately, these diseases remain largely under-publicized as well. Also marginalized in representation and debate are men and women dealing with cancers that afflict smaller populations, including multiple myeloma (burgundy) or thyroid cancer (teal/pink/blue).
 
Amid competing claims for attention and support, cancer research is undergoing a paradigm shift. For example, there are several distinct types of breast cancer, and each requires a different treatment regimen. Just as critically, a single genetic mutation can cause cancers that originate in different body parts. Research based on this fact has given us a number of single-agent drugs that are indicated to work on multiple cancers. Is it now safe to say that the organ of origin may be less important than other factors when cancer is diagnosed? If that is the case, why should those concerned about melanoma (black) compete for resources with those concerned about ovarian cancer (teal)? Wouldn’t it be better if we all banded together, not only to support research into prevention, detection, and cure, but also to counter the exorbitant expense of treatment? Is being ribbon-blind the first step to equality?

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