The mainstream breast cancer culture has various strengths and weaknesses and I think a lot of it stems from traditions, stigmas, and business frameworks. The culture around breast cancer has been ever changing and I think this is what causes the differences in strengths and weaknesses.
Some of the strengths in the mainstream culture are that research funds have been increased, greater awareness has been made, and better precautions/screenings have been developed. For 1997, which was about 21 years ago, the National Institutes of Health alone had budgeted $401 million for research into breast cancer and the Department of Defense $112.5 million (Lancet 1997). More recently, in 2017, this number had grown to $689 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH 2018). The increase in funding has allowed researchers to develop a better understanding of how the disease works, how to prevent it, and the continuing research is how to cure it. The awareness of how common this disease is in women created a definite increase in the amount of spending there is. This brings up my second strength of the greater awareness that has been made. In the Breast Cancer Fund’s 1999 campaign, breast cancer was declared to be a women’s health issue (Ley 2009). Historically, many women were too embarrassed or scared to get examined or check by their doctors, or to even speak out as survivors, but that attitude has shifted dramatically. Advocacy movements that began in the 1990’s brought the issues to light and raised awareness on the truths about breast cancer (Mandal 2013). And the final strength of having better precautions and screenings has had a huge impact on prevention. People were previously too uncomfortable to take preventative measures and because of this, many women died. More women are getting screened and checked routinely for breast cancer even if they don’t have other routine care now (Mandal 2013). Stigmas have been taken away from breast cancer and more women are comfortable now with getting screenings done and taking the steps toward greater preventative care.
Some of the weaknesses in the mainstream culture are that it is used as a marketing technique, there are still too many women being diagnosed, and instead of looking more into disease prevention most research is on disease detection and treatment. We often see the pink ribbon and instinctively think that whatever the product is, it must be going to help prevent/cure breast cancer. In a sense this is true, but there are much deeper problems. Many companies slap a pink ribbon onto any product they have to increase sales. While the companies usually do donate some of the proceeds, they are more usually making a huge profit off of these items (Ley 2009). The second weakness of having still too many diagnosed women goes to show that the research is not necessarily working. We are spending millions of dollars to defeat a disease, but this research isn’t helping people from not getting diagnosed. This goes into the final weakness that the research is looking into the wrong things. Detection and treatment will not prevent people from getting cancer and we need to be looking further into the causes and environmental factors that go into a person developing breast cancer.
These strengths and weakness somewhat align with the eco-feminist views that Ley describes in her article because they are often very intertwined. While it’s great that we are raising money to do research on this horrible disease, we are simply not researching the appropriate things. We should be researching the actual problems associated with breast cancer and the risk factors and possible causes. The exploitation of breast cancer survivors and the pink ribbon as a weakness is also explained by Ley and it shows that this disease has been exploited more than any other for other people to make money and belittle those who have survived from breast cancer (Ley 2009).
Ley, B. L. (2009). From Pink to Green: Disease Prevention and the Environmental Breast Cancer Movement. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press.
Mandal, A. (2013, September 22). Breast Cancer Society and Culture. Retrieved from https://www.news-medical.net/health/Breast-Cancer-Society-and-Culture.aspx
NIH Categorical Spending -NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT). (2018, May 18). Retrieved from https://report.nih.gov/categorical_spending.aspx
The Lancet Editorial Staff. “Breast Cancer Gets the Hard Sell.” The Lancet, 1997, www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(97)21032-9/fulltext.