Saturday, February 4, 2012

Komen Foundation Pilloried for Planned Parenthood Policy - and Rightly So

Earlier this week the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation said they'd be eliminating their grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings. The resulting social media uproar, however, quickly caused them to reverse that decision and issue a sickly-sweet apology press release.

I know blood in the water when I see it; my duty to the blogosphere wouldn't be met without helping to smear Komen's momentarily-vulnerable public image further. After all, it's not every day you can feel righteous while slinging mud on a charity.

The recent furor raises a broader question: how much of what the Komen Foundation does is actually getting us closer to a cure for breast cancer? According to their website, 84% is spent "on our mission." But, that "mission" is defined pretty broadly.

From Komen's donation page.

The screenings, research, and treatment services that Komen provides are definitely valuable, but those only make up 46% of the overall budget. That leaves 54% percent taken up by administration, fundraising and "education" (a.k.a. advertisements). Basically, for every dollar that Komen takes in, a little over half of it goes out toward seeking another dollar. It's inefficient.

Maybe "education" about the risk of breast cancer is important, and causes some people to get treatment who otherwise would not. But, there are obviously some diminishing returns to awareness. Breast and prostate cancer are the number two causes of cancer-related deaths for women and men, respectively, but breast cancer receives much more public money and attention.

Data source: Aminou R, Altekruse SF, Edwards BK, et al. SEER Cancer Statistics Review: 1975-2006. Cancer Statistics, National Cancer Institute. May 29, 2009

A cynic would say that it's more fun to talk about breasts than the inside of men's asses, and probably be right. Some recent "sexy" breast cancer awareness campaigns help to reinforce that cynical view. While the incidence of prostate cancer has risen rapidly over the last 20 years, much faster than the rate of breast cancer, the National Cancer Institute spent twice as much on breast cancer as it did on prostate cancer in 2008.

There shouldn't have to be a fight between different anti-cancer organizations for funding. All of these diseases deserve serious study and research toward a cure. But, there also shouldn't be pseudo-political organizations like the Komen Foundation sucking up resources for runs, pink ribbons, Facebook campaigns, "awareness", and other things commonly known to not stop cancer. If you want your donation to make a difference, write a check to a research lab, not a lobbying group. With their stance on Planned Parenthood, the Komen Foundation has revealed itself to be much closer to the latter.

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