A pink explosion has come to signal October aka Pinktober aka breast cancer awareness month. This year was no different, as more organisations/brands jumped on a pink bandwagon to raise awareness of breast cancer while also shilling their products.

One in eight Pakistani women are impacted by breast cancer, according to Prof Naila Zahid, the head of the oncology department at Liaquat National Hospital. Awareness campaigns across the board by corporations may be well-meaning, but do 'pink purchases' help women afflicted with breast cancer or is the awareness misplaced?

It didn't start off as Pinktober. In 1985, the American Cancer Society partnered with a pharmaceutical company now known as AstraZeneca to create Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Unrelated to this, in 1991, breast cancer survivor Charlotte Haley created peach-coloured ribbons which she would attach to notes seeking donations for the cancer society.

Later, Self Magazine partnered with Estee Lauder and began a pink ribbon campaign - because Haley refused to work with them on account of them being too corporate, they changed the colour to pink to avoid a lawsuit. Decades later, here we are, awash in pink.

Pinktober sees a slew of companies attempting to raise awareness for breast cancer. But few rise to the challenge to empower women with life-saving information

One can't deny that the pink ribbon campaign has helped raise awareness about breast cancer. Campaigns such as recorded messages on the telephone on the importance of women conducting self-exams, as we witnessed this year, go a long way. As does Faisal Mosque turning pink one night in 2017 and the Minar-i-Pakistan in 2019 - they're not just symbolic, they are conversation starters.

Because Pakistan has the highest incidence of breast cancer in Asia, according to the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association, such campaigns help normalise the discussions around this fatal disease. However, has that normalisation led to a desensitisation - ie is it more about companies attaching pink ribbons to their products and less about how that purchase will benefit breast cancer?

Should the focus shift from brand awareness to actionable items, such as ensuring more women have access to mammograms? Early detection is key to beating the disease. The Aga Khan University Hospital, for example, reduced the price of mammograms during Pinktober, which was a welcome initiative but also a reminder how the disease remains unaffordable to treat for...

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