Komen’s shocking “pinkwashed” partnerships

Yesterday, I told you about how little the “breast cancer awareness” industry does to address the real problem of deadly, metastatic breast cancer.

This pinkwashed industry seems to have unlimited funds to hold pep rallies and promotions. Yet serious advocacy groups, which represent women suffering from Stage IV breast cancer, struggle to get attention for the real problem and potential solutions. You never see these women on billboards, TV ads, or podiums. They are the forgotten and ignored real victims of breast cancer.

Of course, the industry very deliberately and intentionally focuses only on women with the non-metastatic (i.e. non-fatal) form of breast cancer. This tactic helps support the illusion that we are “winning” at least some battles in the government war on cancer. Fatal, metastatic disease is just not “sellable” according to Gary Lyman, M.D., of the Hutchinson Center for Cancer Outcomes Research.

Here’s a grim statistic that points out the reality of this situation…

Only 7 percent of all breast cancer funding goes to researching metastatic disease. Even though metastatic disease accounts for up to 20 percent of breast cancer diagnoses. And fully 100 percent of all breast cancer deaths.

Of course, instead of making up for the shortfalls in researching fatal breast cancer, the “breast cancer awareness” industry simply jumps on the bandwagon and joins the parade. And let me tell you, the Susan G. Komen Foundation now marches with a pretty motley crew to line its coffers. In fact, this year the foundation partnered with a major fracking company called Baker Hughes.

As you probably know, fracking utilizes known carcinogens–such as benzene and formaldehyde. But as long as they get their check, the Komen folks apparently don’t give a rip where the money comes from…even if it’s from a company that uses materials known to cause breast cancer!

The CEO of Baker Hughes proudly handed over a $100,000 check to a representative from the Komen Foundation before the Pittsburgh Steelers’ home game this past Sunday. The company also painted 1,000 of its hydraulic drill bits pink. And shipped them in pink-topped containers–along with information about breast health, including breast cancer risk factors and screening recommendations. They called it, “Doing our ‘bit’ for the cure.”

Can we expect that “breast cancer awareness” will skyrocket on the drilling platforms, well heads, and oil derricks? And inside the industrial trailers and oil tank trucks? Will the “roughneck” who cracks open those drill bit containers come away with a better understanding what really causes breast cancer?

It’s complete hypocrisy and stupidity, not to mention waste.

Now let me be clear, there is no conclusive evidence that directly links fracking to breast cancer. But many of the chemicals used in fracking–such as acrylamide, benzene, ethylene oxide, and formaldehyde–are listed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as known human carcinogens.

Of course, the information packets sent by Baker Hughes failed to mention this fact. They also failed to mention that researchers found dangerous levels of benzene in the urine of workers in the fracking industry. Plus, research links workplace exposure to benzene and male breast cancer.

In addition, a 2011 study showed possible links between benzene, ethylene oxide (another industrial chemical), and female breast cancer. And an earlier study found that more than 200 industrial chemicals can cause mammary gland tumors in lab animal models. In their conclusion, the researchers stated strong opinions that these chemicals probably also cause breast cancer in women. But more study is needed.

Any guess who funded the two studies?

None other than the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The irony is almost Shakespearean, isn’t it?

The Komen Foundation remains predictably silent on the issue of fracking and breast cancer. But their outrageous partnership with Baker Hughes clearly “pinkwashes” the whole issue. And clearly shows their stance.

Of course, this isn’t the first outrageous partnership for Komen. It has promoted a number of other highly controversial products in recent years, all in the name of breast health.

For example, in 2010, Komen launched “pink buckets for the cure” together with the company that owns Kentucky Fried Chicken. (This same company also owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.) Last time I checked, foods fried in artificial fats were not on the breast health menu.

Komen also partnered at one point with Yoplait yogurt. Yoplait promised to donate a lousy dime for every pink lid that was mailed back in. But the postage cost five times as much just to mail it. Of course, back then Yoplait products contained milk produced with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). This hormone is banned in many countries and associated with a number of health concerns, including breast cancer.

And who can forget the perfume made by TPR Holdings called “Promise Me.” This perfume supposedly promoted “breast cancer awareness” and a portion of the proceeds went back to Komen.

But in 2012, Komen had to end the partnership with TPR Holdings because the serious advocacy group Breast Cancer Action (BCA) reported that “Promise Me” contained chemicals not listed on the ingredients. Including toluene, a potent hormone disruptor, neurotoxic solvent, and suspected carcinogen. Toluene is actually banned by the International Fragrance Association. (I told you about BCA in yesterday’s Daily Dispatch. It’s a serious advocacy group committed to raising awareness of deadly, metastatic breast cancer.)

This scheme reminds me of the famous Lanvin French perfume advertisement from years ago that went, “Promise her anything… but give her Arpege.” Komen’s slogan could easily be, “Promise her anything, but give her the usual bull.”

But, let’s put all Komen’s dirty promotional antics aside for a moment and turn to its mission.

Nobody at “Komen for the Cure” headquarters should try to kid anyone that they are racing for any kind of “cure.” The organization only advocates for women with early-stage, non-metastatic, and non-fatal breast cancer. And they actively shun women with deadly, metastatic breast cancer (who should be the REAL face of this disease).

So, what is the point of these tasteless tactics?

Komen is just another non-profit bureaucracy–which has grown like a cancer, feeding itself, mindlessly metastasizing to popular sporting events, the oil industry, perfumes, and to fast food purveyors. All in the name of an imaginary “cure.” But without a shred of originality, innovation, or compassion for the women who really need one. They should take their pink ribbons and hang themselves in shame.

And PS, please get off the football field.


  1. “The Silenced Breast Cancer Speaks Up,” Medscape (www.medscape.com) 10/9/2014