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#WomensHealthAwareness: The Truth About the Susan G Komen Foundation

When you think of breast cancer awareness, does your mind jump to Susan G. Komen? I know mine did. Immediately, I thought of pink runs, yogurt tops with the foundation’s name on them, etc. Last year, in my WGST 101 class, my professor had a guest speaker come in and talk about why Susan G. Komen isn’t as perfect as it seems and how there are other organizations that we should support instead. But that lecture was a year ago, and I forgot a lot of what was said, so I did a little digging myself. Below are some criticisms of the seemingly perfect foundation:

1.  For women with metastatic breast cancer disease, Susan G. Komen can be exclusionary and hurtful.

In a 2012 Today interview with several women diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, of which there is no cure, several claimed to dislike the month of October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness month in the United States. Susan G. Komen, which focuses on prevention, survivorship and a cure, does not apply to these women. Laura Wells says, “The stage IV’s don’t feel included” during Breast Cancer Awareness month and within the Susan G. Komen foundation.

2. Susan G. Komen largely advocates for mammograms, even though there is scientific proof that there are better prevention methods.

In 2016, the New England Journal of Medicine found mixed results for the efficiency of mammograms. The study found that while mammograms do reduce the number of women who are told they have late-stage cancer by a small percentage, more women are over-diagosed. This leads to unnecessary treatment, such as radiation, surgery and toxic drugs, never mind the emotional and mental distress. I’m not saying mammograms aren’t important or necessary, but we shouldn’t think of it as the best or only preventative method. Susan G. Komen, however, puts a large amount of emphasis on early screening, as seen by the image below. This rhetoric can be hurtful to women who develop stage IV breast cancer, as it shifts some of the blame onto the person who has the disease for not catching their cancer sooner. 

3. The foundation has sued smaller organizations for using the term, “for the cure.”

You might be aware that Susan G. Komen’s catchphrase is “for the cure.” You can fight, run, etc. “for the cure.” When smaller charities use the same terminology, Susan G. Komen sues them. In 2011, the non-profit, “Mush for a Cure,” in which a sled-dog race raises money to fight breast cancer, was sent a cease and desist letter from Susan G. Komen. The letter demanded that the smaller charity stop using the phrase, “for the cure,” and suspend the charity’s request for a trademark. In 2010, Susan G. Komen requested that the charity, “Kites for a Cure,” which raises money to fight lung cancer, change its name and warned against using pink ribbons alongside the word “cure.” Personally, I find it unsettling that such a well-known foundation like Susan G. Komen would do this to smaller charities, especially since raising money for cures would be halted in the meantime.

4. Susan G. Komen is guilty of pinkwashing.

What’s pinkwashing, you ask? Well, pinkwashing is when a company, organization or foundation claims to care about breast cancer, but then partners with products that are linked to cancer. Probably the most well-known instance of Susan G. Komen pinkwashing is when the organization partnered with Kentucky Fried Chicken. In a joint campaign coined “Buckets for the Cure,” KFC would donate 50 cents for every pink bucket of fried chicken purchased. Sounds nice, right? Wrong. Fried food can lead to cancer, so why would Susan G. Komen partner with them? Another instance was in 2011, with Komen’s own perfume, “Promise Me.” The perfume contained chemicals such as galaxolide, toulene and coumarin, which were deemed toxic. In 2014, Susan G. Komen accepted $100,000 from a fracking and oil company in exchange for pink drill bits, as seen in the image below. Chemicals used in fracking are linked to cancer. Susan G. Komen might have the right intentions, but their campaigns and products have links to carcinogens, highlighting how Susan G. Komen is a business, first and foremost.


Susan G. Komen is a large organization that has raised millions, if not billions, for a cure to breast cancer. However, we should be aware of the foundation’s pitfalls. In this article, I didn’t get to several other criticisms like how the CEO makes more than half a million dollars each year, how for a short time Susan G. Komen stopped funding Planned Parenthood and how the foundation only uses 20 percent of it’s funds for cancer research, among other reasons. Before fully supporting political candidates, we do our research. Before tests, we study. And before supporting foundations, we should dig deeper and acknowledge both the good and bad the foundation has done. By educating ourselves, we can make better decisions about our health, what the best practices are and the organizations we should or should not support.  

Gennifer Eccles is an alumna at UNC Chapel Hill and the co-Campus Correspondent for Her Campus Chapel Hill. She studied English and Women & Gender Studies. Her dream job is to work at as an editor for a publishing house, where she can bring her two majors together to help publish diverse, authentic and angst-ridden romance novels.
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