If you take a closer look at the world around you, you’re likely to spot colorful ribbons of all shapes and sizes. These ribbons aren’t just a fun way to express yourself. They also stand for something important—cancer support and research.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Are Cancer Ribbons?
- Pink for Breast Cancer
- Red for Aids
- Orange for Leukemia
- Orange for Kidney Cancer
- More Ribbon Colors
These ribbons have become the universal symbol for cancer awareness for decades. They’re a subtle yet powerful way to show you’re standing in solidarity with those who have experienced cancer or another challenge. Today, ribbons are used to show support for the military, disaster relief, cancer, and other illnesses.
With so many different colors, you might wonder: what do the different types of cancer ribbons represent? Understanding the most common types is one of the best ways to show your support. Whether you’re looking for a memorial craft or a way to show up for someone with a recent diagnosis, we’ll let you know what the different colored cancer ribbons mean.
What Are Cancer Ribbons?
Simply put, cancer ribbons are a simple loop of ribbon. They’re commonly worn to show support for anyone with cancer or to spread awareness. Today, you’ll find ribbons in all different colors, each with a unique message behind it.
When did these ribbons get their start? It dates back to the 1949 film, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. In the film, a yellow ribbon is a symbol of a far-away lover. The story was inspired by a song dating back to the 1800s, but the idea didn’t gain popularity until prisoners of war returned home from Vietnam in the 1970s.
During the Vietnam War, military spouses began to tie ribbons in their yard and wear them to show support for their loved ones fighting abroad. These only gained in popularity, and they began to be used to support other causes in the 1990s and early 2000s.
1. Pink for Breast Cancer
The most well-known cancer ribbon is pink. These are seen frequently in support of breast cancer. Whenever there’s a breast cancer support event, you’ll see endless pink ribbons.
Some groups have different shades of pink to represent different kinds of breast cancer support. For example, “Game Pink” is a version of pink used to show support by playing video games.
2. Red for AIDS
The red ribbon is the second-most common, but it’s actually not representative of cancer at all. Instead, the red ribbon is a universal sign of support for people living with HIV or AIDS. During World AIDS Day, supporters across the globe are encouraged to wear red in solidarity.
This ribbon began to gain popularity in the 1990s, when HIV and AIDS were highly stigmatized. Red was specifically chosen for its boldness, as well as its associations with passion and love, and with the color of blood.
3. Orange for Leukemia
Leukemia is the cancer of the blood, and it’s a type of cancer that frequently affects children. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society uses the orange ribbon to support research funding for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma. Orange, while mostly used for leukemia, is for support of any blood cancers.
4. Orange for Kidney Cancer
Some colors are used multiple times to represent different things. This is the case for orange, which represents the umbrella of blood cancers, as well as kidney cancer. The National Kidney Foundation hosts many events throughout the year, but especially in March during National Kidney Cancer Awareness Month.
5. Gold for Childhood Cancer
While we often think of cancer as affecting older adults, it can actually strike at any age. The American Childhood Cancer Organization began using gold as a way to show support for those under 21 diagnosed with any type of cancer. This sends a positive message for cancer patients that they’re strong and capable at any age.
6. Peach for Endometrial Cancer
A reported 61,000 women are diagnosed with endometrial cancer each year in America, and the average age of diagnosis is 60 years old.
Peach is used by cancer organizations to encourage more women and their families to learn about endometrial cancer and to seek regular screenings. As the color of friendship and femininity, peach is the perfect way to show support.
7. Emerald for Liver Cancer
Liver cancer is an especially aggressive type of cancer, and its survival rate is very low. Early detection is essential to improving a patient’s outcome, so emerald is worn to encourage awareness and to raise money for research.
Of the 42,000 diagnosed each year in the US with liver cancer, the 5-year survival rate is only around 17%. This means organizations are taking a strong stance to raise awareness and spread information.
8. Teal and White for Cervical Cancer
Some cancer ribbons are multiple colors. With 13,000 women in the US diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, this is a very common type of cancer.
In January, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) encouraged everyone to wear teal and white ribbons to spread awareness about the importance of early detection and HPV prevention.
9. Light Blue for Prostate Cancer
A reported 1 in 9 men in the US will get a prostate cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. Routine screening is a must for early detection and to avoid complications.
Each September during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, organizations promote early screening, awareness, and fundraising for new treatments.
10. Blue for Colon Cancer
Like most types of cancer, early detection makes a big difference in the outcomes of colon cancer patients. Each March, it’s important to wear blue ribbons to raise awareness for color cancer and prevention. Early screenings make all the difference, so this is something everyone can get behind.
11. Purple for Pancreatic Cancer
World Pancreatic Cancer Day is every year on the third Thursday of November. On this day, people wear purple to show their support. Pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose in the early stages, as there are no preventative screening tests, making it a tricky type of cancer.
Why purple? After a long battle with pancreatic cancer, a woman named Rose Schneider passed away. Her daughter founded the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCan) to support others with pancreatic cancer. Because purple was her mom’s favorite color, she chose this color in her honor.
12. Lavender for All Cancers
Sometimes you need to show support for multiple types of cancer. No matter the diagnosis, cancer affects everyone.
Whether you know someone who lost a spouse to cancer or you’ve personally been affected by the loss of a loved one or a personal diagnosis, lavender is a way to show support for everyone who’s experienced cancer in some way. This is a human experience we all share.
13. White for Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is currently the top cancer-related killer for American women. It results in about 27% of all cancer-related deaths. Today, the American Lung Association urges women and their loved ones to fight lung cancer together by wearing white in support.
The white ribbon is a symbol of hope for the future. Through research, funding, and awareness, organizations across the globe fight for a better, brighter tomorrow.
14. Gray for Brain Cancer
Supporters of brain cancer research and awareness are encouraged to wear grey during the month of May in honor of those affected by brain cancer.
A reported 688,000 people in the US alone have a brain tumor. While some are non-cancerous, this is a month to spread awareness about brain tumors and brain cancer.
15. Black for Skin Cancer
In the US, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and it results in the death of one person in the US every hour.
Wearing a black ribbon is a way to bring awareness to this serious type of cancer, as well as to encourage early detection. Black as a color is associated with power, encouraging patients to act early and stay in control of their health.
Support the Fight for Cancer Research
From reading books about cancer to talking to your doctor, there are so many ways to become involved in the fight for cancer research and prevention. Cancer affects nearly everyone at some point, whether it’s a diagnosis you receive or that a loved one receives. Nobody wants to hear those dreaded words, so it’s important to invest time and money in research and awareness.
The ribbons above have been used to bring people together through shared experiences. Cancer is not a single person fight. It affects hospitals, medical professionals, research centers, individuals, and families.
Together, we can reach a brighter, cancer-free future. And in the meantime, we can continue to show support by participating in monthly awareness events, wearing cancer ribbons, and talking to your loved ones about early screenings.
- “About Us.” Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. PanCan.org.
- “Brain Tumor Information.” National Brain Tumor Society. BrainTumor.org.
- “Cervical Cancer Overview.” NCCC. NCC-Online.org.
- “Do You Use Protection?” American Academy of Dermatology Association. AAD.org.
- “Key Statistics for Endometrial Cancer.” Cancer. Cancer.org.
- “Liver Cancer: Statistics.” Cancer: ASCO. Cancer.net.
- “Lung Cancer Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC.gov.
- “The Red Ribbon.” World Aids Day: National AIDS Trust. WorldAIDSday.org.
- Waxman, Olivia B. “Wearing a Pink Ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness? Here’s How Awareness Ribbons Became a Thing.” Time Magazine. 1 October 2018. Time.com.
- “Who Is at Risk for Prostate Cancer?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC.gov.