Film Review -- Pink Ribbons, Inc.

Photography courtesy of Mark Chilvers, with thanks to UNISON for its use.

Pink Ribbons, Inc.  —  both the book by Samantha King and the 98-minute documentary of the same name by Léa Pool –  helped to open many people’s eyes to breast cancer as the “poster child” for cause related marketing, “girlie” culture, and exploitation of a good cause by corporations and charities alike. It weaves interviews with authors, physicians, activists, and women who are dealing with breast cancer themselves to pose critical questions about the real impact (or lack thereof) of the billions of dollars raised in the name of breast cancer.

On November 13th, 2012 The Alliance for Cancer Prevention in association with Tipping Point Film Fund hosted a screening of Pink Ribbons, Inc. in London, UK. I sat to watch the film on a floating barge almost opposite the House of Commons. After the film we had a lively discussion that ran the gamut from confusion to outrage to a sense of relief that others shared their concerns about the seemingly endless need to fundraise for breast cancer while pink ribbon industries profit, incidence rates rise, and “cure” remains an illusion.

A strong message for many viewers was the outright refusal of the cancer establishment to acknowledge known links between environmental and occupational risk factors and breast cancer. Failing to acknowledge that exposures in homes, workplaces and the broader environment are implicated in breast cancer causation (and that at least 50 percent of breast cancer cases have no known cause), keeps the focus on lifestyle, genetics, and the personal “battle” against the disease. Not only does this skew research away from prevention and causation, it’s as if women themselves are to blame for their cancer.

Viewers also pointed out that pink ribbon industry does not adequately consider the affordability of medical care, the side effects of treatments, the support systems in place for people with stage IV cancer, or that living a healthy lifestyle does not free someone from a breast cancer diagnosis. One woman said she finds it hard to come to terms with the fact that she has breast cancer even though she’d lived a healthier lifestyle than others who never got the disease. Another woman told of her devastating grief after going through treatment only to learn that breast cancer is not simply the result of lifestyle or heredity.

Rather than sharing complete information and advocating for changes that would reduce the seeming inevitability of breast cancer, many charities tell us that the only way to deal with breast cancer is to give them more money. In the US and Canada pink merchandising appears to be more insidious than in the UK, but people here have also come to realize that we can’t shop our way out of breast cancer. Nor can we “cure” the disease by selling products that ironically contain substances linked to cancer. We need safer detection and treatments, and we need to stop the disease before it starts.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. may not be news for those who are already attuned to the problems of the pink ribbon industry and culture, but one thing for certain it is a film worth seeing. “I want every editor in the country to see this film,” exclaimed one woman. “In fact, I’m going to buy 50 copies and send them to every single one!” Instead of watching the pink ribbon industry continue to grow around the globe, we need to ask questions and raise our voices. This is what Pink Ribbons, Inc. calls us to do.


Helen Lynn has campaigned on cancer prevention since 1995, initially at the Women’s Environmental with Putting Breast Cancer on the Map and the No More Breast Cancer campaign. She is currently a freelance campaigner/researcher at Wildcard Research and facilitates the Alliance for Cancer Prevention in the UK. Helen also reviewed the film here on the Alliance for Cancer Prevention’s website.

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