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The Ribbon as Symbol

February 2024 Vol 10 No 1
Multicolor ribbons

From a hit song, to the yellow ribbon Penney Laingen tied to an oak tree for her husband and the other American hostages in Iran, to Jeremy Irons wearing one of the first red AIDS ribbons at the 1991 Tony Awards, and, finally, to the pink ribbon devised by Alexandra Penney, of Self magazine, for the Komen Race for the Cure, colored ribbons have come to play a symbolic role in public awareness campaigns. Since March is Kidney Cancer, Multiple Myeloma Cancer, and Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we review a few facts about each of these cancers and take note of their colored ribbons.

Orange Ribbon

Kidney Cancer

Although there are numerous rare kidney cancers, renal cell carcinoma is the most common type and accounts for 85% to 90% of kidney cancers diagnosed in adults. Including all types of kidney cancer, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 81,610 new cases will be diagnosed in 2024.

Chemotherapy is rarely used to treat kidney cancer because the disease seldom responds to those drugs. Surgery is the most common treatment—either a radical nephrectomy to remove the entire kidney or a partial nephrectomy, which removes the tumor and some surrounding tissue. Newer treatment methods include targeted therapy, drugs that focus on cell mechanisms and specific cancer cell molecules; and immunotherapy, drugs that help the body’s own immune system to destroy cancer cells. Within the past 5 years, the FDA has approved 4 combination treatments that combine targeted therapies and immunotherapies. Clinical trials are ongoing to test the effectiveness of combination therapy.

Pink Ribbon

Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a rare blood cancer that affects plasma cells in the bone marrow. As part of the immune system, plasma cells help fight infections and some diseases. When plasma cells become cancerous, they multiply too quickly, produce abnormal antibodies, and impair other disease-fighting blood cells. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 35,780 new cases of multiple myeloma in the United States in 2024. The disease occurs mainly in people over 65 and disproportionately affects Black Americans. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society reports that approximately 157,561 people in the United States are living with or are in remission from myeloma.

Research into the causes and treatment of multiple myeloma has been productive. At the American Society of Hematology meeting in 2023, researchers reported progress in understanding the genomic factors of the disease and in developing new therapies. Local support for patients can be found online, and organizations such as CancerCare ( provide free support services as well as treatment information.

Blue Ribbon

Colorectal Cancer

There has been a slow but steady decline in the number of cases and the overall mortality rates for colorectal cancer (CRC) over the past 15 years, with a decline of more than 30% among adults over the age of 50. Much of this drop can be attributed to increased screening, which is discussed beginning on page 14. Stool-based screening is appropriate for some people. Screening by colonoscopy and the consequent discovery and removal of precancerous polyps can help prevent CRC or find it at an early stage when treatment will be most effective. CRC is now being found at an increased rate among people younger than 55, and the recommended age for screening has been lowered to 45.

The American Cancer Society National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable campaign, 80% in Every Community, involves more than 1800 organizations in a commitment to have 80% of eligible adults screened for CRC. The Roundtable reports success among health clinics, health plans, employers, counties, and other community organizations.


  • American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2024.
  • CancerCare. Treatment update: kidney cancer.
  • Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The pink ribbon story.
  • The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Myeloma overview.

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