Komen’s Planned Parenthood Decision a Victory, But a Small One: Challenging the Status Quo of Breast Cancer

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Karuna Jaggar

Executive Director Karuna Jaggar

By Karuna Jaggar, Breast Cancer Action Executive Director

This week hundreds of thousands of women’s health advocates joined together and took action. We insisted that women’s health come before politics or corporate interests. And a change happened because we demanded it.

For more than 20 years, Breast Cancer Action has been a watchdog in the breast cancer movement because when women’s lives are at stake, women’s health cannot be held hostage to political agendas. All women deserve access to information and resources to support breast health. There is no question that Komen’s decision to revisit their grants policy and reconsider their decision to defund Planned Parenthood’s is a victory—but in terms of the big picture, it is a small one.

We cannot allow ourselves to think our work is done just because Komen reversed course on their funding for Planned Parenthood. The status quo has not and will not end the breast cancer epidemic. As important as it is that underserved women can get their health needs met in their local clinic, the sad truth is that mammography remains an imperfect tool that cannot prevent breast cancer, misses far too many cancers, and results in over diagnosis and over treatment. Yes, all women must have access to the same resources and tools—however imperfect they may be. And still we know mammography alone is not the solution to this epidemic.

We have an opportunity as women’s health advocates to use the incredible power of our unified actions to really turn the tide on this epidemic. Enough awareness–we need action. This week, together, we demonstrated that “Action Speaks Louder Than Pink.”

Our actions over the last few days prove that we can make change happen. It’s time we join together again to ask Komen’s leadership to do more than just reconsider a funding policy.  It is time we urge Komen’s leadership to break through their status quo thinking and reevaluate all their policies and priorities in line with our commitment to put women’s health before political and corporate interests. Because we know that mammography and pink ribbon products cannot end the breast cancer epidemic.

We must bring the focus back to women living with and at risk of developing breast cancer. The last two days have been a stark reminder for all of us about what’s at stake: the breast cancer incidence in this country has risen from 1 in 20 in the 1960’s to 1 in 8 today. This year alone, 40,000 women—sisters, aunties, lovers, thinkers, do-ers, leaders—will die of breast cancer. We need to reevaluate the status quo of how breast cancer is addressed in this country because maintaining the status quo is not going to reverse those numbers. We need to ask and address the hardest questions:

  • Why, in the richest country on earth, do we have to fight tooth and nail to get women the basic healthcare they need?
  • Why are there such huge race and class inequities in breast cancer incidence and outcomes?
  • Why are breast cancer treatments still horribly toxic, impossibly expensive, and ultimately fail too many women?

The sad truth is that Komen’s willingness to restore funding to Planned Parenthood will not prevent women from developing the disease nor will it end the epidemic. Komen continues to deny the links between DES and breast cancer and BPA and breast cancer. Komen overemphasizes the value of mammography—mammography will never stop cancer before it starts. And by allowing companies to put pink ribbons on their carcinogenic products, Komen supports pinkwashers. Meanwhile, metastatic disease, which is what kills women, receives only 2% of research dollars in this country.

This is a powerful and important moment to look closely at how we, as a country, address the breast cancer epidemic. We must insist that as long as women continue to die from this disease, women’s health must always comes first.

Today we have an opportunity to say: the status quo of breast cancer doesn’t put women’s health first. What will change the course of the epidemic is the fierce, unapologetic, clear-eyed activism we saw this week from women’s health advocates around the country, demanding that we must put women’s health first. Now is the time to demand more from your breast cancer organizations. Change will happen because you take action. And your actions will always speak louder than pink.


  1. Sherry Woodward
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Are you aware that the Susan > Komen organization brings in about 300 million dollars a year and only gives 25% of that money to cancer research!!! What do they do with the rest of the money?

    I think they bought pink shoes for some guy ball team, yes really they did this……. maybe jets, fancy vacations, fur coats???

    They should be audited so that we the public can see. Maybe people would think twice about buying pink spatulas, and perfume that has cancer causing chemicals in it!!!

  2. Diane E Smith
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    2-5-2012 Thought you might like to know I just sent this to Komen:

    Dear Komen leadership,

    You’ve got to be kidding. Ms. Brinker posts a video whinging about how your decision to defund PP was misunderstood, and now you reverse it by posting that sterile statement? Why not post another video and show us your feelings about restoring services to so many women?

    Brinker and Handel need to go. Deny that right-wing politics had anything to do with your decision all you want. However, it is impossible to look at how you shaped your criteria so that PP was the agency whose funding you hit and not see influence from anti-abortionists who can’t see past one issue to saving women’s lives. Ugh.

    I don’t trust you anymore. You spend waaaaaay too much on your executives (Brinker really makes over $400,000? REALLY? AND SHE WANTS TO CUT OFF LIFE-SAVING SUPPORT TO WOMEN WHO HAVE NOTHING? WHAT WOULD SUSAN HAVE SAID?) and are waaaaaay too concerned about PP’s involvement in abortion, for which your funding does not pay and which is a small fraction of what PP does.

    My money goes elsewhere. My sister died of breast cancer, and we have given yearly donations since then. Cancer Institute can get them from now on.

    Komen betrayed every women with that wrong-headed decision, and your saying that PP will be “eligible” doesn’t change my understanding of the meanness and wrongheadedness of your leadership. I can just imagine your lawyers saying, “Restore it! Then cut back on how much you give! Fund them, but with less and less each year. The public will never know it.”

    I don’t trust you. You betrayed me. You betrayed any women who ever got breast cancer, died of it, or feared she would.

    My money goes elsewhere.

    Thanks, but no thanks.


  3. patty martillaro
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    More research money needs to go to the brave doctors who are researching alternative cures and treatments. There are several of these doctors and facilities in the US and many are being raided by the FDA! Why? Because the alternatives can not be patented which means Big Pharm can not make their billions of dollars. According to several cancer doctors, “a cure is sitting on the shelves of the research centers!” Let’s change this!

  4. Posted February 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Not enough attention has been paid to diet as a driver of cancer. The four fold increase in breast cancer since WWII means something is different now than it was before that, and diet is definitely one of those things we should be suspicious about. I am inclined to give my support to any group that will fund more research into this area that has been neglected because it goes against too many commercial interests.

  5. emmer
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    why is it that all the money goes to cure rather than prevention? does it have something to do with there being more money for someone (big pharma?) in cure than in prevention? could it be that prevention would find connections to those chemicals we all know are bad for living things and the high rate of cancers in the modern world? is it only that “cure” is heroic while “prevention” is boring?
    of course cure is important, but prevention is more so.

  6. Leah
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Besides for diet and other toxic exposures, research need to address the following:
    1)informing those with dense breast tissue so that they can have other screening besides mammography
    2)more studies on aromatase inhibitors for use in post menopausal woman in order to prevent cancer as well as long term use (beyond 5 years) after breast cancer is diagnosed.
    Lifestyle choices play a part in the development of most cancers but few people bother to educate themselves and change their habits. Despite decades of warnings about obesity and smoking, these health hazards persist because people refuse to change.

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