Breast Cancer isn’t Pink

Tackling a racial gap in breast cancer survival is an article on the New York Times website that draws attention to the detail,

Despite 20 years of pink ribbon awareness campaigns and numerous advances in medical treatment that have sharply improved survival rates for women with breast cancer in the United States, the vast majority of those gains have largely bypassed black women.

It focuses on Memphis where financial barriers to many poor, black women attaining healthcare are plentiful and where ‘many black women …do not seek health care at all.’ The article concentrates on socio-cultural-economic reasons for the racial gap in breast cancer survival, but the comments beneath continue a separate discussion about the lack of research and treatment for triple negative breast cancer, which supposedly is more prevalent in black women and is more aggressive and has a higher recurrence rate. Does drawing racial distinctions between different types of a disease reify and re-inscribe certain biological categories of race, or does it constitute an humanitarian ‘affirmative action’ that rectifies the time and funding deficiency for illnesses that predominantly affect non-white patients?


Challenge Rises to Pakistan’s Breast Cancer Taboos is another article that looks at non-Western, non-White cases of breast cancer, by Associated Press.

It outlines the stigma associated with breast cancer in Pakistani society,

The word breast is associated with sexuality instead of health and many view it as immoral for women to go to the hospital for screenings or discuss it even within their family.

It suggests that female role models play a significant role in detaching cancer from its taboos, raising awareness, and increasing survival. In particular, breast cancer survivor and prominent Pakistani politician Fehmida Mirza.

Parallels can be found in 1970s USA when the disease entered the mainstream with public figures such as Shirley Temple Black, Betty Ford and Happy Rockefeller revealing their diagnoses. Both breast cancer patients and the media gave them credit for bringing the disease into the open and saving lives: a woman writing to Ford in 1974 said: ‘I thank God and you that I found it in time.’


Both these articles address a pervasive and long-standing assumption that breast cancer is a disease of, to use a nineteenth-century term, ‘civilisation.’ In popular imagination it is a twentieth-century disease, one that affects the Western, the wealthy, the white. My PhD research denies its modern character, and these articles go some way to dismiss the ethnocentrism and eurocentrism that is so prevalent in current discourse about the disease, and particularly in current advocacy and awareness campaigns:




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