PITTSBURGH - The country is awash in pink for breast cancer awareness month, and some women are sick of it.
While no one is questioning the need to fight the deadly disease, some breast cancer advocates are starting to ask if one of the most successful charity campaigns in recent history has lost its focus.
"The pink drives me nuts," said Cynthia Ryan, an 18-year survivor of breast cancer who also volunteers to help other women with the disease. "It's the cheeriness I can't stand."
Activists have even coined a new word: pinkwashing.
They say that's when a company or group does a pink breast cancer promotion, and sells and profits from pink products at the same time.
Some of the pink products have been controversial.A Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun with pink pistol grip? The manufacturer says a "Portion of the Proceeds Will Be Donated to a Breast Cancer Awareness Charity."
You can get the "Pink Ribbon Combo" at Jersey Mike's Subs, or the Sephora Collection Pink Eyelash Curler. One year, there was a pink bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The San Francisco group Breast Cancer Action has led the campaign to question pink products, but executive director Karuna Jaggar said it isn't saying all such products are bad.
She said when the pink ribbon campaigns started some 20 years ago, there was a great need to raise awareness.
"At one time, pink was the means," Jaggar said. "Now, it's almost become the end in itself. In its most simplistic forms, pink has become a distraction. You put a pink ribbon on it, people stop asking questions."
Breast cancer activists agree that the use of a ribbon to promote awareness evolved in stages. They note that in 1979 there were yellow ribbons for the American hostages in Iran; in 1990, AIDS activists used red ribbons to call attention to victims of that disease; and 1991 saw the first major use of the pink ribbon, when the Susan G. Komen Foundation gave them out at a New York City race for cancer survivors.
It's clear that too many loved ones are still lost to the disease, despite many advances in diagnosis and treatment. The National Cancer Institute estimates that about 40,000 women will die of breast cancer this year, and 230,000 new cases will be diagnosed.
Leslie Aun, a spokeswoman for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, based in Dallas, said the advocacy group isn't apologizing for all the pink.
"Research doesn't come cheap. We need to raise money and we're not apologetic about it," Aun said.
Komen, founded in 1982, has contributed $685 million to breast cancer research and $1.3 billion to community programs that help with mammograms and other needs.