Man paints over the mouth of ABC patient

Why Pinktober Sucks

Each year, the month of October sees the pink charities appear with their fundraising campaigns, very often based around community events. As a man with breast cancer, I’ve often been asked to talk about the chances men have getting this genderless disease. At each event, I have had women and men come up to me and say, I never knew men could get breast cancer. This got me thinking, why, after over 30 years of awareness-raising for women’s breast cancer, have we not put the message out there that men can get the disease too? And my stage IV sisters all tell me that October for them is a crass and derogatory exercise.

The pink divide

I’ve decided there are a few reasons for this. First, the emphasis on the color pink, used extensively in all promotional materials, means that men are blindsided from coming up with a probable breast cancer diagnosis of a lump behind their nipple. Both they and the medical professionals, very often dismiss the breast cancer possibility. I know this from first-hand experience. Ten years earlier a mammogram of lumps in my left breast proved negative, and after feeling lumps again, it took three visits over three months to convince my primary physician to order an ultrasound. This later diagnosis meant I was classed as a Stage IIIb patient with inflammatory breast cancer.

Pinktober slogans

Breast Cancer charities very often sexualize this disease. I’m sure it’s because fundraising efforts are more successful if the sexual nature of breasts is part of the advertising. We’re all familiar with pretty crass breast cancer awareness slogans such as "save second base" and "booze for boobs". Then there’s the very poor taste "save-the-ta-tas. Men don’t have Ta-Tas, and de novo stage IV women, don’t generally have mastectomies. Women are more than their breasts, and men are certainly not the owners of sexy breasts.

Think before you pink

Then, there’s the commercialization of breast cancer. There’s barely a product that doesn’t turn pink in October. There’s also the issue of how much of the pink dollar actually gets to the breast cancer charity. As well, what percentage of the amount collected goes to breast cancer research after subtracting the marketing and administration costs? In many cases, it’s as little as 25 cents in the dollar.

More research, less pinkwashing

Men with breast cancer have a lesser chance of survival than women, primarily because we are diagnosed later. And, since breast cancer in men may actually be different to that in women, our treatments may not necessarily need to be the same. Because we are a small cohort, there is a dearth of male-specific clinical research and trials. There will only be more research when better treatment data from males is collated and analyzed.

Cancer is not pink and fluffy

So, pinktober sucks for many, and while I’m sure the cash registers tingle and people get out and have some fun, remember it’s at the expense of others who don’t view breast cancer as pink and fluffy. Rather, it’s a serious disease that they are not at all happy to celebrate at any time of the year.

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