pink "Breast Cancer Awareness"¯ ribbons raise attention for the disease
and extract millions of dollars from Canadians' pockets, but do not
Companies associate their products with
breast cancer awareness, while increasing their profit margins and
elevating their corporate image. Before buying in, we should ask:
1. Who gets the money, and what do they do with it?
2. How much (if any) money goes to research, to prevent or to treat
3. Is this "pink-washing"? Does this company make products that may
contribute to breast cancer, perhaps with ingredients that interfere
with hormones? What is the company doing to ensure that their products,
supply chain and corporate practices embrace least-toxic approaches and
do not add to the disease?
Some products are suspected of even promoting the disease. "The
challenge is not to wear a ribbon, buy cosmetics or run a race" it is to
take steps every day to make the least-toxic choices, to stop the
disease before it starts. Indeed, laws and regulations should ensure
that our food, water, air and products are truly safe, because
Prevention is the Cure," declared Prevent Cancer Now (PCN) chair Meg
you haven't had breast cancer you probably know women who have, as one
in nine Canadian women develops it in her lifetime. Breast cancers are
increasing in young Canadian women, with no turnaround in sight. It is
commonly diagnosed worldwide, with clear environmental links. Women in
industrialized countries have more than twice the rate of breast cancers
compared with those in developing countries. Rates for women immigrating
to a region with higher breast cancer incidence gradually increase, and
their daughters match the local norm.
Established¯ breast cancer risk factors
account for less than half of diagnosed cases.
Mainstream cancer prevention focuses on early detection (mammograms,
that may do more harm than good due to over-diagnosis), and lifestyle
factors. Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, eating fat, red meat, sugar
and processed foods, and being inactive. This narrative places the onus
of responsibility squarely on individual women, while dismissing
environmental links to cancer.
Diana Daghofer, past-chair of PCN and current chair of the Hills of Erin
Cancer Prevention Foundation, is a thriving breast cancer survivor. She
worked in health promotion and followed all the "rules"¯ of good health.
She ate well, exercised regularly, maintained a healthy weight, did not
smoke and limited her alcohol consumption. She had no family history of
the disease, so where did her breast cancer come from?
No one can say, of course, but Diana
wonders about the chlorine-filled pools she frequented from childhood
through adolescence, and regular, long swims in the Ottawa River as an
adult, downstream from the Chalk River nuclear facilities. Her family
lived in a walk-up apartment in downtown Montreal when she was born. Did
traffic emissions affect her health years later? Other women wonder
about cosmetics, pesticides and more. The research that might pinpoint
these answers just isn't being done. Nevertheless, other evidence can
still inform cancer prevention.
Cancer is a complex disease. Environmental factors can alter how breast
cells grow and interact, stop genes from working properly, and disarm
the immune system so that cancers progress. Everyday exposures to a
myriad of chemicals can contribute to breast cancer; can tip the
balance. Obesity, commonly fingered as a cause, may also be a storehouse
for fat-loving cancer-causing chemicals from food, water, air and
products. Cell phone radiation from phones carried against the body may
also cause breast cancer.
Researcher Ellen Sweeney, co-author of Selling Pink: Feminizing the
Non-Profit Industrial Complex through Ribbons and LemonAid (August,
2016) sums it up, "The current approach of Breast Cancer Awareness Month
dismisses broader political, social and structural factors that
influence the disease. Only a truly precautionary approach can be
effective to protect women's health and prevent breast cancer. We need
to move away from awareness campaigns that focus on individual-level
factors, towards an upstream approach that focuses on everyday exposures
to toxic substances."¯
The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation,
Canada's major breast cancer group that just raised $17 million in the
Run for the Cure, is aligned with many major institutions such as
Pepsico (follow link for "Dole Sparklers") and Shoppers Drug Mart. They
do link to others' environmental health work, but pages on
hormone-disruptors are 404, and you'll not hear them making a fuss about
hormone mimicking chemicals in personal care products, junk food,
pesticides (wash them off, they say), genetically engineered crops, etc.
Prevent Cancer Now will release further information on contributors to
breast cancer and opportunities for prevention during October.
Cancer Now is a Canadian national civil society organization
including scientists, health professionals and citizens working to stop
cancer before it starts, through research, education and advocacy to
eliminate preventable causes of cancer. PCN does not receive "pink"
We're largely volunteer and funded solely
by small donations, with a budget about a quarter of one percent of the
Breast Cancer Action. (2016). "4 Questions Before You Buy Pink."
Gray, Janet. (2010). State of the Evidence: The Connection Between
Breast Cancer and the Environment, 6th Ed. Breast Cancer Fund: San
Francisco. Available from:
Harvey, Jennifer and Michael Strahilevitz. (2009). "The Power of Pink:
Cause-Related Marketing and the Impact on Breast Cancer." Journal of the
American College of Radiology, 6(1). Pp. 26-32. Abstract:
King, Samantha. (2008). Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the
Politics of Philanthropy. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
National Film Board. Pink Ribbons, Inc. Directed by Lea Poole. Available
Parkin, D.M., L. Boyd, and L.C. Walker. (2011). "The fraction of cancer
attributable to lifestyle and environmental factors in the UK in 2010:
Summary and conclusions. British Journal of Cancer, 105. Pp. S77 S81.
Schwarzman, Megan and Sarah Janssen. (2010). Pathways to Breast Cancer:
A Case Study for Innovation in Chemical Safety Evaluation. California:
Breast Cancer and Chemicals Policy Project. Available from:
Sweeney, E. and Killoran-McKibbin, S. (2016). "Selling Pink: Feminizing
the Non-Profit Industrial Complex through Ribbons and LemonAid." Women's
Studies, 45(5). Available from:
World Cancer Research Fund Federation. (2016). "Breast Cancer
Statistics."¯ Available from"
World Health Organization. (2016). "Breast Cancer Prevention and
Control." Available from:
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