spam cancer emails

Spammed … by a cancer charity

Breakthrough Breast Cancer charity sent me tens of emails over a period of three months.

Despite all efforts to stop the emails, they continued.

Is this really the way any charity should be spending donated money? 


spam cancer emails
A positive campaign?

For the past three months I have woken up to a lurid pink email that in large capital letters says: NO LUMP DOESN’T MEAN NO CANCER… over 1000 women a month lose their lives to breast cancer.

As a woman I am already aware of the risks of breast cancer. As a journalist writing health pieces and real life stories for people with cancer, I am undoubtedly aware more than most of all the signs.

And when I first received this email from Breakthrough Breast cancer charity,  I didn’t think too much of it. As a journalist my inbox is full with this sort of info from PR and marketing companies. Some of it is useful, some not – I simply clicked to the next email and continued on my day.

Fast forward a month and I was receiving this email sometimes twice a day. Reading that 1000 women die every month from breast cancer isn’t the most positive message from any charity to read every day and I tried to stop it being sent. While I have never ever to my knowledge signed up to any sort of campaign like this – and am careful always to tick boxes to say I do not want to be emailed any promotions – I unsubscribed and emailed a reply not to send any more. I even contacted Breakthrough Breast cancer themselves via their supporter email but heard absolutely nothing.

There was a lull of around a few days when I thought I’d been successful – but then the emails started again. The same shocking pink email with its terrifying statistics from the same charity. By now it was clogging up my inbox. Sometimes it was arriving twice a day.

Due to the sheer number of times it was sent to me, I began to find this email about cancer offensive and alarming. Once Breakthrough Breast cancer charity was linked to someone that was caring, helped people and above all (I thought) funnelled donated money through to research. Now for me this charity had become aggressive spammers trying to ram their message home on emails I had never asked to receive and did not want to read.

Added to that I wondered if morally and ethically it is right for any medical organisation or charity to email out such shocking emails anyway. Cancer is a very personal illness and I don’t believe they should be sending such alarming information through to people. Breakthrough Breast Cancer charity has no idea if the person they are emailing is awaiting results of a cancer test or has a close relative who might be going through treatment.  What would someone who is awaiting the results for cancer feel like to receive this email saying, “No lump doesn’t mean no cancer… over 1000 women a month lose their lives to breast cancer”? What if they were recovering from cancer treatment and trying to put the episode behind them?

Eventually, and with all other modes of contact exhausted without any results and with ever more alarming bright pink spam coming through, I resorted to making a complaint to the press office at Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Frankly this is the only place where I can think I have ever left my email with this charity as it is likely in the past I have contacted them for a quote while researching a feature (although I don’t expect to be put on some sort of emailing list like this…! and I strongly recommend press offices ensure they never add journalists to this sort of spam email group.)

Prior to contacting the charity I had thought perhaps the emails were the result of some sort of email scam. I simply couldn’t imagine any charity would actually spam someone so much, especially when they have repeatedly asked to be removed from the email lists.

I am surprised and shocked to find that in fact Breakthrough Breast Cancer charity has been paying a digital media marketing organisation called They have now admitted responsibility for sending me tens of these emails – apologised and finally claim they have removed me from this list.

It will be wonderful to log onto my emails for once and not be confronted with this ghastly email shouting its negative and depressing message.

Of course I won’t be the only person to have received them and I won’t be the last. Which brings me to the point of this blog. Should any company, let alone a charity, send these sorts of emails out?

A year ago I made a decision not to send out any more ‘newsletter’ emails to people who’d signed up to receive them. The reason was this – even when people have signed up to receive such a newsletter eventually these emails are treated as spam. My research showed many remained unread, and then a number of people who had subscribed couldn’t remember doing so. Even if they had happily sold a story to a newspaper or magazine in the past, they had moved on. It didn’t matter what I wrote in them, these days we all get too much stuff emailed to us anyway and they saw the friendly emails as spam.

Since stopping them I have received a few emails from people saying they missed them – but my advice here is it is much better for those people to simply follow Featureworld on Twitter or Facebook.

As for Breakthrough Breast cancer charity they would be better off writing more informative content for their website and putting that out on social media. At the very least if they are going to do a campaign, they should make it a positive one, “More women diagnosed with breast cancer live for longer than ten years…” would be a much better way to spread the message of the good that charities raising money for research can do! And of course direct money into that research and not into expensive spam email campaigns.

Have you been on the receiving end of spam emails from a charity? Have you been shocked to find out where your money to charity is going? Sister site sell my story website Featureworld is committed to exposing charities that are anything but. Contact Featureworld in confidence here.


Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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