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Can a Facebook status do anything to fight cancer?

REUTERS/THIERRY ROGE

No one in their right mind would think changing their Facebook status could cure cancer.

And yet the recent Facebook viral campaign, in which female users post status updates about where they like to keep their purses, suggests just that.

The gist of the campaign: A message was sent to female Facebook users instructing them to post sly updates about the location of their purse. Think "I like it on the bed" or "I like it on the floor." The callout makes vague reference to "raising awareness" about breast cancer.

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The link between purses on the floor and breast cancer is curious enough. But how does the hazy concept of "awareness" make any difference in the effort to prevent, diagnose and treat breast cancer? What impact does "awareness" have on the lives of breast cancer patients who must undergo difficult rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery?

Every October, thousands of consumers purchase pink clothes, make up and other products in the name of breast cancer.

Pink toilet paper, kitchen appliances and day planners are just some of the offers touted on the website of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation as important ways of supporting breast cancer research. The companies selling the products say they'll donate a portion of proceeds to breast cancer charities - but often, those donations represent a fraction of the product's price.

It's an annual trend that demonstrates the evolution of breast cancer from a devastating, life-changing disease to a marketable commodity associated with femininity and sex.

One could argue that awareness helps bring attention to the plight women face, or that general societal awareness of a disease will make people more likely to donate to a charitable cause.

That may be.

On the other hand, the plethora of pink-festooned consumer goods and ambiguous Facebook messages may muddy the point when it comes to breast cancer.

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It's a terrible disease that requires focused attention on how it can be prevented, what causes it and how to improve treatment.

While those efforts may receive a small boost from the proceeds of sales of pink products, it would pack a much bigger punch if Canadians donated directly to research funding agencies, cutting out the corporate middle-man.

Does a Facebook update really call attention to that need, or are we fooling ourselves?

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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