Komen Breast Cancer Charity Responds To Critics

Susan G. Komen for the Cure (formerly known as The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation), is the world's largest breast cancer charity. It has raised near $1.5 billion for cancer research since its inception in 1982. Guest host Jacki Lyden speaks with Katrina McGhee, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the organization.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

As promised, we turn next to the organization called Susan G. Komen for the Cure. It's the world's largest breast cancer charity organization and it's raised nearly $1.5 billion for cancer research since its inception in 1982. And on the line with us is Katrina McGhee, who's the organization's executive vice president and chief marketing officer. Welcome to the program, and you're joining us from Israel today.

Ms. KATRINA MCGHEE (Executive Vice President, Susan G. Komen for the Cure): Yes I am. I'm excited to be here for our first Israel Race for the Cure.

LYDEN: I think, Katrina, that the statistics bear repeating. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths of women in the United States and the leading cause of cancer death for Latina women, according to the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control. How does the Susan G. Komen Foundation address this?

Ms. MCGHEE: Well, through a multiple prong approach. On the local level our affiliates address it through funding of education screening and treatment. We try to fill the gaps in local community and make sure that your neighbors next door can afford their treatment and women who are uninsured or underinsured get access to the screening they need. On the national level we look at it from an advocacy perspective to ensure that everyone, really around the globe, we work to ensure they have access to the care they need. And we also fund that scientific research that we hope will get us to the cures.

LYDEN: Komen has a huge list of corporate partners at work for us to raise awareness. Everything from the 3M conglomerate to RE/MAX, the real estate company, Frito Lay, just to name a few. How does Komen determine what companies or products it partners with to bring about breast cancer awareness?

Ms. MCGHEE: All of our programs go through a pretty robust and vigorous vetting process before we partner with them. And we get buy in from our scientific community, as well as our marketing, health sciences, health promotion and generally from our affiliates. And from there we work with the companies to ensure we have programs that not only meet transparency standards, but also feel good for the consumers in terms of their participation and raise money for us to reinvest.

LYDEN: All right. You've just heard Barbara Brenner say that the company, quote, can slap a pink ribbon on its product and make people feel that they're doing something about curing breast cancer. Do you screen significantly, do you think? And there is not a cure for breast cancer is there?

Ms. MCGHEE: Well, the truth is, in the last couple of decades we've reduced mortality by 31 percent excuse me - as it relates to breast cancer. And I'm excited about that progress. And we have essentially cured early stage breast cancer. It was 74 percent survival rate when it was localized to the breast when we started, and now it's over 98 percent. And that's quite a lot of progress we've made with the help of our corporate partners and the entire Komen family.

And the truth is, people do feel good about supporting these programs. So this is something that consumers should feel good about and do feel good about.

LYDEN: But how do you screen? Do these companies have to agree to terms outlined by the organization or do they agree to donate a certain dollar amount? And what about something like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Susan G. Komen for the Cure?

Ms. MCGHEE: To answer your first question, yes, they do go through a screening process that includes them filling out an application, providing information not only about the program that they want to support with us, but other ways they're involved in the community and their overall commitment to corporate social responsibility.

In regards to the KFC program, listen, we believe in reaching people where they live, work and play. And KFC helps us do that in very small communities where they may be the only fast food restaurant in town, and in many large communities where the franchisees, and those are really the people who made the contribution, sent their commitment to breast cancer to race for the cure. They did education in their restaurants and a host of other things to support the partnership.

LYDEN: Do you fear, Katrina McGhee, a sort of pink ribbon fatigue? Every October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it gets bigger each year. Do you think there's a certain jadedness that's growing around this?

Ms. MCGHEE: No, I really don't. I mean, first of all, you know, nearly 40,000 women die of breast cancer each year. And until we get to the point where less women are dying, we will never have enough pink. And as long as there are still myths and misperceptions in the market, we need Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We hear all kinds of things from underwire bras cause breast cancer, to promiscuous sex causes breast cancer, to, you know, if I use a hair relaxer, it will cause breast cancer.

And people don't understand that they don't have to have a family history to get breast cancer. Those are the kinds of things we're trying to raise awareness around now. They seem simple messages that we take for granted. But it's the reminder, the repetitive messaging that gets women to act.

LYDEN: Katrina McGhee is the executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world's largest breast cancer charity and she was kind enough to join us on the line from Israel, where Komen is organizing its first Israel Race for the Cure. Thank you very much for being with us today.

Ms. MCGHEE: Thank you for having me.

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