The Origin of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) was established in 1985 as a collaboration between The American Cancer Society and Imperial Chemical Industries’ pharmaceutical division (now AstraZeneca, a leading manufacturer of cancer drugs). NBCAM was created because there was a lack of information about breast cancer to the general public, especially women. The original goal of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was to provide information, educate, and empower women to “take charge of their breast health.” To achieve this goal, mammography, early screening, and early prevention were the leading topics promoted. NBCAM still has the same objective today, but it is now celebrated worldwide in an attempt to increase awareness, raise funds for research, educate, and bring support to those affected by breast cancer.
The pink ribbon was not recognized as a national symbol for breast cancer until the early 1990’s. In 1991, Charlotte Haley, whose family members battled breast cancer, was making peach-colored ribbons in her home to bring awareness of how the National Cancer Institute was only using 5% of their $1.8 billion annual budget for cancer prevention and research. The magazine SELF and cosmetics company, Este Lauder, contacted Haley and asked to join in on her fight. Haley declined their help because they “were too commercial.” Seeing this as a great opportunity to spread awareness of breast cancer, both SELF and Este Lauder chose to use a pink ribbon (as to not create a lawsuit with Haley). In October of 1991, the companies distributed 1.5 million ribbons with a card attached that had instructions on how to do a proper self-exam. They took on the role of activists as well and collected 200,000 petitions to urge the government to advocate for increased funding for breast cancer research. Because of this campaign of the pink ribbon, Haley’s peach ribbon never caught on as the symbol for breast cancer awareness and activism.
As companies were looking for a way to gain traction into the breast cancer awareness industry, they started creating other products for their own campaigns. Avon used the pink ribbon to create jewelry and other items that could be worn to promote their breast cancer campaign. Susan G. Komen, a leading foundation for breast cancer, offered a pink ribbon brooch to stay relevant. Today, there are thousands of companies that create and promote limited edition breast cancer pink products for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Most companies do give back a percentage of their revenue of those products to fund cancer research and breast cancer foundations.
If you are looking to educate yourself or donate, we urge you to check out the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Their mission is “to prevent and cure breast cancer by advancing the world's most promising research.” They are an A+ charity, according to CharityWatch, that uses over 90% of their profits towards cancer research.