Komen Should Do More, Not Less, For Women's Health

By now, you've heard the story: Susan G. Komen for The Cure, a once well-regarded breast cancer awareness and research organization, became a pariah seemingly overnight when it decided to stop funding breast cancer screening to low-income women through Planned Parenthood. The decision was a debacle. And now you might think twice about wearing that little pink ribbon on your lapel. But the organization has reversed its decision and let go of the executive behind that decision, and given the public outcry over this fiasco, it's not likely to mess with Planned Parenthood ever again.

Lost in the condemnation over Komen's unfortunate mistake is a conversation about the organization's broader goals and responsibilities -- the conversation about its complicated role in women's health.
 
For far too long, medicine and public health were dominated by men. When the Komen foundation was founded in 1982, for example, fewer than 1 in 6 American doctors was a woman. It's almost impossible to overstate the impact that that gender gap had on both the way the health community thought about women's diseases and the way healthcare was delivered to women. Diseases like breast cancer, cervical cancer, and complications of pregnancy were seen as "less important" because they only affected women. What's more, the deeper meanings, symbolism, and psychosocial impacts of these diseases were completely ignored.
 
That's the historical context within which we have to understand the importance of this organization. It shined a spotlight squarely on women's health and helped to kick-start a broader conversation. Growing into a multi-billion dollar enterprise, it painted everything with its trademark pink -- from Pink Grapefruit Tic-Tacs to the cleats of NFL football players. Komen generated needed awareness about the importance of early detection, and raised millions of dollars to fund important breast cancer research.
 
But Komen was so successful that it made breast cancer synonymous with women's health, and that's a problem.