Sunday, Oct.16, 2016 

 

Women's Health

Re-Think Pink

Is breast cancer really avoidable? 

Meg Sears, PhD, Chair and Science Advisor, Prevent Cancer Now/Website photo

 

ctober's pink "Breast Cancer Awareness"¯ ribbons raise attention for the disease and extract millions of dollars from Canadians' pockets, but do not prevent cancer.

 

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 breast cancer?
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 Sears.


If 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 CIBC 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.

Prevent 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" donations.

 

We're largely volunteer and funded solely by small donations, with a budget about a quarter of one percent of the CBCF.

Resources:
Breast Cancer Action. (2016). "4 Questions Before You Buy Pink." Available from,
www.thinkbeforeyoupink.org/resources/before-you-buy/ 

Gray, Janet. (2010). State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment, 6th Ed. Breast Cancer Fund: San Francisco. Available from: www.breastcancerfund.org/assets/pdfs/publications/state-of-the-evidence-2010.pdf 

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: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19111268 

King, Samantha. (2008). Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. Available from: www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/pink-ribbons-inc

National Film Board. Pink Ribbons, Inc. Directed by Lea Poole. Available from: www.nfb.ca/film/pink_ribbons_inc/trailer/pink_ribbons_inc_trailer

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. Available from, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252065/ 

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: www.coeh.berkeley.edu/greenchemistry/cbcrpdocs/pathways_report.pdf

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: www.tandfonline.com/eprint/tgIKuuG3iPRar4QYermP/full

World Cancer Research Fund Federation. (2016). "Breast Cancer Statistics."¯ Available from" www.wcrf.org/int/cancer-facts-figures/data-specific-cancers/breast-cancer-statistics 

World Health Organization. (2016). "Breast Cancer Prevention and Control." Available from:
www.who.int/can

 

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