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Cancer blogger Tranette Ledford is worried that she has the "wrong color" of cancer. Every year over 180,000 women just in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer, accounting for about 25% of all cancer diagnoses in women. But 90,000 women, just in the USA, like Ledford are diagnosed with "cancers that hit below the belt" such as anal, uterine, ovarian, vulvar, vaginal, cervical, or endometrial cancer, which don't get as much public attention.
Breast Cancer Receives Inordinate Attention
Ledford maintains that there is a pecking order in women's cancer diagnoses, and breast cancer comes out on top. There are pink ribbons and pink arm bands. There are breast cancer awareness days and breast cancer events all over the United States, and Ledford participates in them.
But the focus on just breast cancer, however, leaves out tens of thousands of women who suffer other gynecological cancers. The warnings of complications of cancer treatment, such as the condition of permanent swelling known as lymphedema, occur in many kinds of women's cancers but are directed at women who have breast cancer. And while there a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for Breast Cancer in nearly every city every year, Ledford struggles to get out the word about Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, which occurs every September, and the National Race to End Women’s Cancer, which occurs every November.
But maybe an even better idea is to stop looking at cancer in terms of its organs of origin.
A New, Emerging Way of Looking at Cancer
For most of the twentieth century, doctors and lay people alike viewed cancer as a disease that caused cells in particular organs to go wrong. Even when cancer spreads to different parts of the body, it retains the properties of the tissues in which it orginates. Breast cancer that breaks out of a tumor and spreads to the lungs is still breast cancer. Melanoma that metastisizes to the brain is still skin cancer, and so on.
Cancer treatment, however, is not necessarily limited to one organ at a time. The very promising cancer drug Avastin has been used to treat certain kinds of brain, colorectal, lung, and ovarian cancers. Gleevec has been used to treat leukemia and certain kinds of tumors that can occur in both the stomach and the intestines.
So if you want to raise awareness for Avastin, what color ribbon do you use? There's a gray ribbon for brain cancer, a teal ribbon for ovarian cancer, and an orange ribbon for kidney cancer. The orange ribbon for kidney cancer duplicates the orange ribbon for leukemia, and the teal ribbon for ovarian cancer duplicates the teal ribbon for thyroid cancer, but there are only so many colors to go around.
Not a Bigger Piece of the Pie, a Bigger Pie
Dr. Susan Love, an expert on breast cancer, argues that the way to approach fund raising for cancer is not to play off a black ribbon campaign for melanoma against an emerald green ribbon campaign for liver cancer, and so on. The solution is not to have fundraisers competing for limited resources. The solution is finding greater resources.