Breast Cancer Stamps and the Merchandising of Women's Health Print E-mail
From my blog, - Lucinda
Breast Cancer Stamps and the Merchandising of Women's Health
Lucinda Marshall, @ 2005

Breast Cancer Stamps and the Merchandising of Women's Health
A well-meaning friend sent me an e-mail earlier this week begging me to buy breast cancer stamps. I get an e-mail like this about once a week, except during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October when they seem to arrive every few hours.

I always hesitate to voice my cynicism when I reply to these e-mails because they represent a genuine effort on the part of those who send them to stop this horrible disease. But I have some significant questions about just how the money raised by the stamps is spent. Does it fund impartial research or are the studies conducted under the influence of pharmaceutical companies that profit from the sale of the drugs used to treat breast cancer? Does any of the money go to researching the causes of breast cancer?

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to wonder about this business of buying our way to ‘The Cure’, but when it started to get impossible to make it through the month of October without buying something pink, the caution lights started flashing. I’ve never had much tolerance for the notion that you can buy things to solve problems, since for the most part, consumerism is a leading contributor to the problem in the first place. Ironically, a study just came out that in fact suggests that there is a link between a chemical, bisphenol-A or BPA, that is used in food packaging and breast cancer.

But what nails me is the duplicity behind the marketing of thinking pink. The primary corporate sponsor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is Astra Zeneca, which makes the popular cancer drug Tamoxifen. Interestingly, Tamoxifen can also cause cancer and until recently, Astra Zeneca also made a variety of other cancer-causing chemicals. Apparently the company has a thing about color marketing. Not only do they encourage you to think pink, they are also the maker of a frequent sponsor of the nightly network news, the little purple pill a.k.a. Nexium. Which begs the question of how corporate sponsorship of the news might impact how cancer ‘cures’ and causes are reported by the networks.

Astra Zeneca is not the only company playing both sides of the cause/cure game. Dupont makes numerous cancer-causing chemicals as well as drugs used to treat cancer. And General Electric makes nuclear power plants that produce ionizing radiation, a known cause of cancer as well as mammography equipment (which also perversely produces ionizing radiation). GE also owns NBC.

As for the stamp, according to the United States Postal Service, the stamp has raised $37 million in funds for breast cancer research. “By law, 70 percent of the net amount raised is given to the National Institutes of Health and 30 percent is given to the Medical Research Program at the Department of Defense.” Breast Cancer Action, questions the NCI funding because it focuses “on the molecular biology of cancer and the function of genes in the development and/or treatment of cancer” with only limited amounts of lifestyle and environmental research or investigation into the causes of breast cancer. It would also certainly be interesting to know why the DoD is so interested in women's health.

Before we buy one more stamp or ribbon, we need to ask some hard questions about how the money we donate is spent. We need to look at the connections between the research and the corporations that make cancer-causing drugs and those that profit from the drug ‘cures’ and diagnostic equipment (sometimes one and the same), Just as critically we need to be aware of the financial ties of those who report the ‘facts’ about this disease.

Postscript: I am writing this a few days after the revelations that the tobacco companies looked into literally sugar-coating their poisonous products in order to appeal to/kill women. Yes, kill. This comes only a few years after we are finally told that there might be a few unacceptable risks to hormone replacement therapy. Misogyny is a highly profitable financial strategy. Inasmuch as we grant corporations personhood in this country, it seems high time we try them for murder.