Boob Jobbed

American women get the breast cancer; American business gets the profits

CP: Do you have any reckoning of how much money the pink ribbons have brought in?

King: It's in the millions of dollars, but I don't have an exact estimate.

While some campaigns actually raise very small amounts of money despite the big promises often made, the overall amounts are quite considerable. Yoplait and its parent company, General Mills, alone, claim to have given a total of $15.5 million.

City Pages photo illustration

Information about exactly how much money is raised and how it is spent is very hard to find, however. This is one of the reasons Breast Cancer Action in San Francisco launched their Follow the Money Campaign to track the dollars flooding into the breast cancer cause.

CP: What epidemiological results can the pink ribbon movement point to as a result of its fundraising and "awareness" campaigns? Is there less breast cancer in the American population than there was 20 years ago? Are survival rates higher?

King: Breast cancer incidence has actually increased over the period since the pink ribbon movement emerged. Women had a 1 in 14 lifetime risk of getting breast cancer in 1980 and they have a 1 in 7 lifetime risk now. Mortality rates have improved slightly in recent years among all women, but have worsened among American Indian women. According to the latest statistics, black women are less likely than white women to survive five years after a breast cancer diagnosis: 77.3 percent versus 89.7 percent respectively.

CP: In the book, you write about the way that major pharmaceutical companies and medical imaging companies have lined up behind the pink ribbon campaigns. How does that kind of targeted giving program fit with our general idea of "philanthropy"?

King: I think we tend to think of philanthropy as purely altruistic, or if not purely altruistic at least as something that does more good than harm. But I'm not sure we can say that about breast cancer marketing on the part of pharmaceutical companies. Are we ever going to be able to prevent breast cancer, when companies that profit from treating it are driving the research fundraising agenda?

CP: Do other countries share our predilection toward these public-private health movements? How do you explain their huge cultural currency in the U.S.?

King: They're certainly a growing phenomena in other countries, Canada and Great Britain in particular. They're much more prevalent in the U.S. because of the historical importance of the private or volunteer sector in providing for the common good. In other social systems, people expect to help provide good health for all through paying taxes, but this has never been the case in the United States where private solutions are deemed preferable.

CP: When do you think you'll see your last Livestrong bracelet out in public?

King: That's a good question! January 1, 2007.

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