It looks like Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s defunding of Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer services may have finally yanked the curtain aside and revealed what’s really been going on behind the scenes of that powerful and well-funded breast cancer organization.
As many women’s health advocates have been pointing out for years, Komen has acted questionably before on issues that affect women’s health — including their breast health.
And many of those actions seem to be driven not by the needs of women, but by the needs of Komen’s corporate sponsors.
Last fall, for example, Amy Silverstein (“Sick Girl”) reported in Mother Jones about Komen’s tendency to downplay or even deny science that suggests a link between breast cancer and bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in plastics and other products.
In fact, as Silverstein pointed out, Komen has a history of downplaying all findings linking environmental toxins to breast cancer.
Could Komen’s stance on this issue, Silverstein asked, be because the organization receives funding from such companies as Coca-Cola, General Mill, 3M and Georgia Pacific (a subsidiary of the Koch Industries), which use those chemicals in their products?
Then there’s the phenomenon of pinkwashing, which Komen unabashedly created and encourages. Pinkwashing is the term used to describe when corporations claim to care about breast cancer by promoting “pink” products or a “pink ribbon” campaign (especially each October during “Breast Cancer Awareness Month”) while continuing to sell products that are linked to the disease. (One notorious example from a few Octobers ago was a company that promoted “Pinky” vodka to women. Alcohol consumption is generally considered a risk factor for breast cancer.)
Komen has even engaged in some pinkwashing itself. For several years, Komen — with the help of TPR Holdings, a New York-based company that makes many colognes and cosmetics and which donates $1 million a year to the charity — has marketed its own perfume, “Promise Me.” It turns out, however, that the perfume contains several toxic chemicals (not listed on the label), including ones suspected of being carcinogenic. (Confronted with these findings, Komen said last fall that it is reformulating the perfume.)
But “Promise Me” has another problem. Like so many of the other pinkwashing products hawked by companies, not much of the perfume’s purchase price actually goes to breast cancer research. According to the math done by one group of anti-pinkwashing activists, 3 percent of the perfume’s $59 price tag ends up being spent on breast cancer research. That’s $1.51 per bottle.
No wonder many breast cancer activists and survivors see red whenever they see pink.
“In a ghastly coincidence, the same day Komen pulled the money from Planned Parenthood because [Florida Republican Congressman Cliff] Stearns thought they were spending federal funds on abortions, the Journal of the America Medical Association published a damning study that almost half of women receiving second surgeries after lumpectomies didn’t need the procedure,” Hirshman writes. “Painful, disfiguring, unnecessary surgery. At least three of the four sites studied in the JAMA report — the University of Vermont, Kaiser Permanente Colorado, and the Marshfield Clinic — has a relationship with the Komen Foundation. Kaiser Permanente is a ‘corporate campaign partner,’ the University of Vermont received a research grant, the Central Wisconsin Komen affiliate sponsors programs at the Marshfield Clinic.”
“Maybe,” adds Hirshman, “Komen should concentrate their granting criteria on whether the recipients are actually helping cancer patients.”
Komen is, I think, in much more serious trouble than its founder and CEO, Nancy Brinker, is admitting. Because once the curtain is pulled aside, we never see the person behind it the same anymore.