Cancer will afflict 41 percent of Americans in our lifetime. More than 15 million are survivors right now.

Because cancer affects our lives in so many ways, we generously give more than $5 billion per year to support research for treatments and cures.

While donating to a cancer nonprofit is one way to help the cause, another is to create awareness within your community and among your friends, families and co-workers.

One of the more fascinating developments in fundraising and awareness campaigns is the proliferation of lapel ribbons.

According to Smithsonian.com, awareness ribbons dates back to tokens given to jousting (or warring) knights in the medieval ages. Some Americans think that awareness ribbons began with the “Civil War Era” use of yellow ribbons to welcome home veterans. However, the Library of Congress says the “tradition” is more recent – when the song “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree” became popular in 1973.

The ribbon became the universal symbol of awareness and support in 1979 when Penney Laingen, wife of one of the men held prisoners during the Iran hostage crisis, decided to use a yellow ribbon to show support for her husband and the other hostages.

During the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, actor Jeremy Irons wore a red ribbon on stage at the Tony Awards to show support and create awareness for the disease.

The first cancer awareness ribbons were developed by Susan Koemen, who started Race for the Cure for her breast cancer foundation. According to pinkribbon.org, the foundation gave out pink ribbons in 1991 to every participant in its New York City race and the rest is history.

In the years since, ribbons with branded colors have become public statements for support. Here are some of the current colors and their relationships to types of cancers:

  • Pink – Breast Cancer
  • Teal – Ovarian Cancer
  • Pearl – Lung Cancer
  • Purple – Pancreatic Cancer and Leiomyosarcoma
  • Orange – Leukemia and Kidney Cancer
  • Black – Melanoma
  • Navy – Colon Cancer
  • Burgundy – Multiple Myeloma
  • Grey – Brain Cancer
  • Blue – Prostate Cancer
  • Gold – Childhood Cancer and Osteosarcoma
  • Burgundy and Ivory – Head and Neck Cancer
  • Lime – Lymphoma
  • Peach – Uterine Cancer
  • Teal and White – Cervical Cancer
  • Yellow – Sarcoma/Bone Cancer and Bladder Cancer
  • Green – Liver Cancer and Adrenal Cancer
  • Periwinkle – Esophageal Cancer and Stomach Cancer
  • Teal/Pink/Blue – Thyroid Cancer
  • Lavender – All Cancers
  • Blue and Green – Anal Cancer
  • Orchid – Testicular Cancer
  • Amber – Appendix Cancer
  • Marigold, Blue and Purple – Bladder Cancer
  • Zebra Print – Carcinoid Cancer & Endocrine Cancer
  • Rainbow – Adrenocortical carcinoma

Some nonprofit organizations benefiting cancer research and patient support share ribbon colors or have differing ones for the same type of disease – sometimes depending on where they are located and services them provide.

It doesn’t matter if you know which color is associated with certain cancers. It’s most important that patients are celebrated and research, diagnoses and treatments are supported.