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Unveiling the Colors: Decoding the Symbolism of Cancer Ribbons - (Part 1)

History of the human race has demonstrated that symbols have a special ability to communicate difficult concepts and feelings without detailed explanations. Cancer ribbons are a testament to this power since they are a powerful means of spreading words of solidarity, support, and optimism in the face of a difficult path.(1)

These ribbons, each of which is linked to a certain form of cancer, have evolved into more than simply eye-catching pieces of cloth; they now stand for the grit and tenacity of those confronting the disease.(1)

The symbolic usage of ribbons to express support, empathy, and optimism when it comes to spreading awareness for various forms of cancer has grown to be effective and moving. Each of these colorful cancer ribbons serves as a visual depiction of the variety of cancer kinds as well as the journey that patients, survivors, and their loved ones take.(1)

In this blog, we explore the significance and implications of various cancer ribbon colors, illuminating how crucial they are for promoting awareness and comprehension.

The Origin of Cancer Ribbons

In 1991, a very small campaign started the usage of a colored ribbon to promote cancer awareness. With a postcard highlighting the absence of financing for breast cancer prevention, a woman by the name of Charlotte Haley started giving out peach ribbons at her neighborhood grocery store and physicians' offices.(2) 

When Alexandra Penney, an editor for Self magazine, learned about Haley's initiatives, she asked if she could use her ribbon in a story on Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Penney's effort, according to Haley, was too corporate.(2) 

Instead, Penney decided to use a pink ribbon and thought of the idea to distribute pink ribbons at beauty stores in New York City to draw attention to the cause.

The color pink has already been associated with breast cancer since 1990 when the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation started giving out pink visors to participants in its Race for the Cure.

Dating back to History: The Beginning of it All

The rise in cancer is generally acknowledged to be a result of increased indoor pollution, smoking, air pollution, human lifespan, changes in food, and changes in physical activity that occur throughout periods of industrialization in various regions of the world.

In Britain, the Industrial Revolution started in the 1780s and picked up steam in the 19th century. Within the rural, medieval civilization were pockets of urban centres characterized by immigration, widespread interpersonal violence, social inequality, and a wide range of new businesses. (3) 

Carcinogens were present in medieval Britain, which was still a pre-industrial society. These include naturally occurring environmental carcinogens like radon and UV radiation, which probably had a comparable impact on earlier populations as it does now.(3) The prevalence of open fires in houses meant that most people were exposed to wood smoke, and urban areas increased the danger of exposure to exogenous carcinogens like fuel and air pollutants.(3)

Industries used in the Middle Ages to produce leather, bone, antler, textiles, metal, and glass might have exposed people to a variety of carcinogens. The period's expiration signaled the start of a turbulent connection between industry and living circumstances that increased human exposure to carcinogens.(3)

A Rainbow of Colors: Understanding the Symbolism

Here, we’ll dive deep into which color represents what kind of cancer and the reason behind it.(5) 

  1. Type of Cancer: All types

    1. Band Color: Lavender

lavender_ all cancers.Lavender Cancer Ribbon, 2019
Image Credit: 204886557@Dvarg | AdobeStock

Advocates attempt to raise awareness of cancer in general as well as drawing focus to particular cancer kinds. Some people wear a light purple or lavender ribbon to draw attention to cancer as a whole. 

However, esophageal cancer and cancer survivors are sometimes represented by the same color. As a result, there is some color and ribbon overlap. Another method some individuals use to depict all cancer kinds is by fusing a variety of ribbons to create a multi-colored display.(4)

2. Type of Cancer: Head and Neck

Image Credit: ID 186155601 © Noipornpan |
Image Credit: ID 186155601 © Noipornpan |
  • Band Color: White and Burgundy

The two biggest risk factors for head and neck cancer are alcohol and cigarette usage. The ribbon has two colors as a result. Cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx, nasal cavity, sinuses, and salivary glands are included in the category of head and neck cancer.

3. Type of Cancer: Breast

Image Credit: 897593850@Vasyl Dolmatov | istockphoto
Image Credit: 897593850@Vasyl Dolmatov | istockphoto

Band Color: Pink

Pink ribbons are among the most well-known ribbons because they stand for breast cancer. Evelyn Lauder, founder of the Estee Lauder cosmetics line and a breast cancer survivor herself, created the first official pink ribbon for breast cancer.

4. Type of Cancer: Leukemia and kidney

Image Credit: ID:1288798671 @phongphan5922 | istockphoto
Image Credit: ID:1288798671 @phongphan5922 | istockphoto
  • Band Color: Orange

A blood malignancy called leukemia often develops in the bone marrow. One of the 10 most prevalent malignancies in the US is kidney cancer. According to statistics, the five-year survival rate for renal and leukemia patients has dramatically grown over time. The greater awareness and improvements in the medical profession brought about by research may be responsible for this fact. 

5. Type of Cancer: Uterine or Endometrial

  • Band Color: Peach

Image credit: 1559579307 @Panuwat Dangsungnoen | istockphoto
Image credit: 1559579307 @Panuwat Dangsungnoen | istockphoto

People wear the peach color ribbon, especially in September, which is gynecological cancer awareness month, to promote awareness for preventative testing. This color ribbon is most frequently seen in women following menopause.(5)

Image Credit: 1054987240 @Chinnapong | istockphoto
Image Credit: 1054987240 @Chinnapong | istockphoto

6. Type of Cancer: Lung

  • Band Color: White or Pearl

About 25% of all cancer-related fatalities are caused by lung cancer. Therefore, it is more important than ever to spread awareness about carcinogens like cigarettes.

7. Type of Cancer: Sarcoma or bone cancer

  • Band Color: Yellow

Image Credit: 1342152845 @Julia August | istockphoto
Image Credit: 1342152845 @Julia August | istockphoto

A yellow ribbon stands for bone cancer or sarcoma. Bone cancer comes in a variety of forms. Sarcoma can harm the connective tissues in the body, such as the cartilage or the myofascial tissue, or it can impact the bones. Companies like the Sarcoma Foundation of America contribute to the funding of research and the spread of knowledge about the condition.

8. Type of Cancer: Brain

  • Band Color: Grey

Image Credit: ID:1379102243 @Betka82 | istockphoto
Image Credit: ID:1379102243 @Betka82 | istockphoto

The grey ribbon, a believable portrayal of the grey matter in the brain, strives to raise awareness and funds for brain cancer.

9. Type of Cancer: Skin

  • Band Color: Black

Image Credit: 1312085386 @Svetlana Apukhtina | istockphoto
Image Credit: 1312085386 @Svetlana Apukhtina | istockphoto

One of the cancer forms that affects people the most frequently, according to a study, is skin cancer. To encourage routine skin checks and preventative screenings, people wear black ribbons.(5)

Image Credit: 1134058761@irkus | istockphoto
Image Credit: 1134058761@irkus | istockphoto

10. Type of Cancer: Bladder

  • Band Color: Blue, Yellow, and Purple

A ribbon with the colors blue, yellow, and purple stands for bladder cancer. According to the American Bladder Cancer Society, 5% of all cancer cases are caused by bladder cancer. Compared to women, men are more prone to acquire it. May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month.(6)

From their humble beginnings to becoming powerful icons of solidarity, support, and hope, cancer ribbons have played a crucial role in the collective human experience of facing the challenges posed by this relentless disease. As we explore the evolution of these ribbons, we not only witness their ability to unite individuals in a shared cause but also acknowledge the strength and resilience that radiates through the sea of colors representing different types of cancer.

In part two of this exploration, we will delve into the diverse colors and their unique representations, shedding light on the stories behind each ribbon. As we continue this journey, let us carry with us the lessons of the past, the strength of the present, and the hope for a future where the power of symbols, like the cancer ribbon, transcends its origins and becomes a beacon guiding us towards a world without the shadows of this formidable disease.


The content provided in this blog is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. The information presented here is not intended to replace professional medical consultation, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Additionally, the graphics used in this blog are under the sole ownership of their respective creators. These visuals are included here for informative purposes only and do not imply any endorsement or partnership with the creators. All copyrights for the graphics are retained by their original creators, and their use in this blog is not intended for commercial purposes but to enhance the understanding of the topics discussed.


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