The Komen Organization in Numbers and Words

komen total exp

Figure 1. Total expenses of the Komen organization for the year ending 31 March 2012.

I love the Internet! With thanks to my friend GG, a stellar webcomber, I have been spending the last couple of days studying the most recent independent audit of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. The audit is available to all as a PDF at that link.

First, the numbers

The Komen financial year runs from the first of April through March thirty-first. The most recent independently audited annual financial statement dates from March 31, 2012, and this post is based on those numbers.(*)

komen totals

Figure 2. Gross breakdown of Total Expenses from Figure 1.

The good news first. Komen spends a relatively small portion of income on support services–about 19% of total expenses(the blue slice of the pie at the left). These support services expenses consist of fund-raising costs ($52,118,804 or 69%) and general/administrative costs ($23,064,504 or 31%).

The largest portion of Komen income, about 81%, is very appropriately spent on program expenses (the green slice). I am particularly interested in taking a closer look at how that $318,281,722 is spent.

Komen program

Figure 3. Breakdown of program expenses.

There are four categories of program expenses: Research (21% of total program expenses), Public Health Education (44%), Screening (16%) and Treatment Services (8%). The pie chart at the right shows the breakdown.

The lion’s share, of course, is spent on “public health education”. I assume this means awareness campaigns. About a fifth of program expenses are invested in research, approximately the same amount in health screen and treatment services.

Now the words

The  Komen organization was founded in 1982. At that time it made enormous sense to make massive investment in public education and awareness, to dispel the fear that surrounded the word “cancer”. Young people today would have trouble understanding how terrifying the illness was; the word was rarely even pronounced aloud. People were too frightened to examine themselves and sometimes even to go to a doctor if they suspected something. After all, the reasoning went. It’s a death sentence whether I get treated or not.

So much has changed in the more than thirty years since that time. Cancer is now seen as a serious and treatable illness, rather than a death knell, and even metastatic cancer is approached as a chronic disease. Most women in the West have been taught about breast self-examination and breast exams are a regular part of the preventative medicine protocols of hospitals, clinics and insurers.

Moreover, today’s medical thinking and standard of practice is rethinking its approach to mammography, moving toward starting later and repeating less frequently in most cases. The American Cancer Society’s recommendations now call for:

  • Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health
  • Clinical breast exam (CBE) about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over
  • Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast change promptly to their health care provider. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.

Is the Komen mission still relevant in 2013?

I’d prefer to answer a slightly different question. Do we still need a large, well-known breast cancer charity in 2013?

Yes, of course. But as the world has changed since 1982, I suggest that the Komen organization’s mission should change. In a country where fewer and fewer people have access and the means to pay for medical care, I suggest that Komen is well placed to increase the proportion of income spent on treatment services. Perhaps individual treatment grants or matching funds or helping to pay for the operation of breast clinics could be considered.

I suggest that more of the organization’s income should be invested in research, both clinical research and basic research. The more we know about cancer, the better equipped we will be to treat it, perhaps even prevent it. I don’t have a personal stake in this; today’s research is not going to benefit me. But think of the generations it could help!

My proposal, then, would be more of a three-piece pie: a third of program expenses to public health education, a third to research and a third to treatment services. What do you think?


(*)The pie charts were made with the free Create-A-Graph tool available in the Kids’ Zone of the American National Center for Education Statistics.

Discrepancies in totals are due to rounding off or to my own arithmetic incompetence. The original figures are can be seen at the link to the independent audit in the first paragraph of this post. I welcome comment and correction.

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39 Responses

  1. Heartafire says:

    Having been turned off on the Komen Organization due to its response to the government criteria for breast cancer screening I discontinued my support there. I have chosen to contribute to the City of Hope who fights for breast cancer detection guidelines rather than succumb to those who would put their own interests first.

  2. Scorchy says:


  3. AnneMarie says:


  4. I no longer support Komen in any shape, form or fashion. Everytime I see pink now, I cringe. I believe more attention and funding should be focused on natural cures and the truth about cancer instead of supporting big pharma’s agenda. The “treatments” used by the medical industrial complex, the cancer industry, and big pharma seem to drive people to treatment of symptoms rather than actual cures, or at best… a prolonging of the disease after a few years of reprieve while in actuality, creating further risk of the disease returning even stronger (as with chemotherapy as it loads the body with toxins and depletes the immune system – a disaster waiting to happen). There already exist proven cures for most cancers, cures that are kept hidden from the public and in some cases, made unavailable and/or illegal by the FDA and other entities for fear of them ruining the profits of the other “recommended” treatments. I believe mammograms often create and increase rather than prevent the risk of cancer. However, I appreciate the effort put into this article. People should re-think the numbers. Komen should re-think their whole organization.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Ga Liberty. I hate the whole pink scene, too. The older I get, the more I appreciate that numbers tell a story if we are willing to read it.

  5. Reblogged this on anotheronewiththecancer and commented:
    What she said

  6. gregsmithmd says:

    Excellent, well thought out post.

  7. Lisa says:

    Next weekend my daughter and I will be walking in the Race for the Cure. I am very pleased to hear that they are good stewards of the money that I raise for them. Thank you for pointing that out. I agree with you in that I would like to spend more of that money on research.Being an American survivor I disagree a bit with the idea that women are for the most part well educated on breast care. I talk to women all the time regarding it, and I am shocked at the misinformation that still exists, even among the medical community. They just don’t pay attention until they have to. Last week I had the mammograms don’t cause breast cancer and no one is going to cut a healthy breast off unless you either have or there is a strong possibility that you will get breast cancer. And pink ribbon hatred make me cringe.

    • Knot Telling says:

      First of all, Lisa, my thanks to you and your daughter for acting. So many people just sit and not their heads and don’t do anything.

      Your point of view about public misinformation is interesting. My proposal is not to do away with it by any means; just to take some of that money and direct it to research and screening/treatment services, making the distribution more balanced.

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting.

  8. Renn says:

    Love this. Thank you for putting in the hard work of analysis. Am retweeting!

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thanks so much, Renn! It’s been a while since I did such an exercise–felt good to stretch my arithmetic muscles!

      Thank you for reading, commenting and retweeting. 🙂

  9. The public education section, in addition to needed a budget cut, needs an overhaul. As Lisa commented, women are still uneducated, and there is much misinformation out in the public (I wrote about it on my blog in Failure of Awareness). But I disagree with the support for Komen–because clearly much money has been spent, so, clearly, it did not work, and that needs to be corrected. Yes, women don’t pay attention until it happens to them, but the messenger needs to be held accountable when that much money was wasted. We can start with ceasing to link breast cancer ads/fund raisers with images of bikinis and perky perfect boobies (not always Komen’s fault, I concede). Again, go to my blog to see an example of unreconstructed, scarred, un-perfect breast cancer. And my scar is well healed and pretty tame compared to most scars, but it is still REAL breast cancer–not that boobies crap.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thank you, CC. I appreciate your point of view.

      I’m not sure we can say “It didn’t work” because the level of public awareness and informed-ness has increased dramatically since Komen started up in 1982. I do agree that they may need to look at new methods and messages for the world today. And in my book that most certainly does not mean boobies and tata and “the girls”. It means real women with real lives that are stake.

  10. Maxine D says:

    Interesting article – well presented stats, thanks!! Interesting responses too! Yes, pink ribbons are over rated, and it is sad to see the money raised is not going where the majority would benefit. Thank you for presenting facts, and a dissenting viewpoint, fearlessly.
    Blessings and prayers

  11. Lisa says:

    I have sat at the health fair table, told my story at lunch and learns, talked individually with friends and co-workers. I would respectfully say that it isn’t the messenger; its the listener. No one, not even me wants to think that they can get cancer. They live in denial of it. That is why reasonable people pick up the habit of smoking. Still, I would be negligent to not speak out when I hear a middle aged woman say “I’m not worried, it doesn’t run in my family.” Or when my own sisters tell me that I got breast cancer because I got a mammogram. Denial and fear is the culprit that keep reasonable women uninformed. However, I would rather that they fund Dr Touhey”s research than teach me how to apply make-up when I’m in chemo. More money does need to be put into cancer research by every entity. Komen included.

  12. Excellent post and research. Changes may be called for, but I can’t complain too hard. During chemo, I was fortunate to get a grant from them through CancerCare.

    • Knot Telling says:

      I am so glad you posted, Eileen; thank you. It’s good to hear from someone who was helped through the treatment services. My suggestion above is to expand that part of their activity.

      Hope you’re doing well now. 🙂

  13. Excellent post. I appreciate your strong argument presented reasonably.

  14. nancyspoint says:

    Terrific post. Thank you!

  15. Tami Boehmer says:

    Very thoughtful and balanced post. Komen has done some good but needs an overhaul. I’m stage IV, too, and have lost too many people to this disease. We need a cure, awareness and early detection does not cure cancer.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Sorry that you’re a member of the club, Tami. One of the big eye-openers for me since diagnosis was learning that early detection is no guarantee against metastasis later on.

  16. bethgainer says:

    I think you are so right. Komen has to rethink its mission. Awareness is not enough. Thank you for writing this comprehensive, balanced post.

  17. Mary Gill says:

    I recently saw some negative posts on the triple negative breast cancer forum about the Susan G Komen Foundation. I had already signed up for the Race for the Cure and had raised $525. I was diagnosed with triple negative bc June 2012 I should be done with my Radiation next week. I had no knowledge of tnbc and was surprised as I thought all breast cancer was easily treated which I have found out that this is not true. Your post has made me feel a little bit better about the Komen Foundation and my fund raising efforts. I agree with you that a whole lot more of the pie needs to be in research – there is so much about tnbc that is an unknown. I walked in the Race this past Sunday and it was a very emotional day for me. It felt good to be with other survivors and hear their stories. We had over 25,000 runners/walkers at the Race this past Sunday.

    • Knot Telling says:

      You should never ever feel bad about doing what you can to support research into this horrible disease.

      While I do have significant issues with how the Komen organization spends their money, I have nothing but admiration for the grassroots supporters. Please be sure of that. Thank you.

  1. 14 May, 2013

    […] an analysis by fellow blogger Knot Telling about how that pie is presently divvied up. Do click here to take a […]

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