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Good Question: Why So Much Breast Cancer Attention?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Pink ribbons are everywhere in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness month. And although other diseases have their own weeks or months, there’s little question that breast cancer gets the most publicity. So, why does breast cancer get so much attention?

“I think women have become very empowered, and they have decided to take charge of the disease,” said Lois Joseph, the co-founder of the Breast Cancer Awareness Association in Minnesota.

Joseph was diagnosed with breast cancer nine years ago and she survived.

“I think we’ve created a sisterhood, unfortunately, of breast cancer survivors,” said Joseph.

But she also acknowledges the non-stop marketing barrage that happens every October.

“It’s en vogue. So many people are aware of it to promote a product or promote an organization,” she said.

The non-stop marketing has some wondering, why isn’t there more attention to more deadly cancers?

On Twitter, Katie Hamlin wrote, “My uncle died of lung cancer last [week] & every time I see a breast cancer thing, I ask ‘What about all the other cancers?'”

“My mom is slowly dying of ovarian cancer. It is far more deadly and gets little pub,” wrote Lisa V. on Twitter.

In 2006, the latest year where U.S. cancer statistics are available, 191,410 women were diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s second only to skin cancer in new diagnoses, and it is right behind lung cancer, which had 196,454 new cases.

But when it comes to deadly cancers, 158,599 died of lung cancer in 2006, 53,196 died from colorectal cancer and 40,820 women died from breast cancer.

Heart disease kills far more all three combined, 631,636 in 2006 according to the CDC.

“Women have taken this on as an issue they know they can fight,” said Angie Rolle, a prevention coordinator at the Minnesota chapter of the American Cancer Society.

“We’re fighting against all cancers every single day,” said Rolle.

Marketers of all types have latched on to the breast cancer cause. On Twitter, Geri surmised that it’s because breast cancer “affects one of men’s favorite female body parts.”

“I never thought about it that way, but perhaps that is true,” said Joseph. “We are all focused on the breast, whether it’s breast enhancement or mastectomy.”

All this marketing works for the cancer charities, which bring in hundreds of millions of dollars. And it works for the companies. According to a Newsweek article, a 2008 online survey conducted by Cone, found that 85 percent of Americans said they found it acceptable for companies to involve a cause or issue in their marketing, up from 66 percent in 1993. And 79 percent of respondents said they were likely to switch from one brand to another if was associated with a good cause.

So, by focusing on one cancer, are other cancers losing out?

“I’m going to address that directly: No,” said Joseph.

Her position is that if the choice is to market and talk about breast cancer as opposed to no cancer, she’s happy to see all the pink.

“When we find a cure for breast cancer, that will absolutely spill over to other diseases. It does impact other cancers,” said Joseph.

Rolle agreed.

“I think as we raise awareness about colon cancer, men and women will be more comfortable talking about if they’ve been diagnosed,” she said.

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