Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Commercialising Public Health

Backlash against “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness campaigns

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 12 October 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5399
  1. Meg Carter, freelance journalist, Bath, UK
  1. meg{at}

Big business is keen to jump on the breast cancer awareness bandwagon but do its messages around screening do more harm than good? Meg Carter reports

Each October, breast cancer awareness month provides an annual focus for pink ribbon themed campaigns—many of which are backed by commercial partners eager to be seen to support a worthy cause.

The pink ribbon began as a grassroots movement, with survivors wearing ribbons to show solidarity with each other.1 But it was quickly appropriated by commercial businesses such as Estée Lauder and breast cancer organisations, led by the US based Susan G Komen Foundation, to show support ranging from financial donations to goodwill.2

The amount of cash raised with commercial backing can be substantial. America’s Breast Cancer Research Foundation, founded by former Estée Lauder senior vice president Evelyn Lauder, has raised £207m ($320m; €280m) in donations since 1993. Asda’s Tickled Pink campaign, meanwhile, has raised £44m for Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now since 1996.3

However, commercial involvement in breast cancer campaigning has drawn criticism from organisations such as US group Breast Cancer …

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