In the weeks leading up to the sea of pink ribbons marking BreastCancer Awareness Month, we are inundated with pleas from everyone TO SUPPORT THEIR CAUSES. Banks and drug stores, cosmetic companies and yogurt makers, and manufacturers of small appliances all URGE US to buy their products or support their runs because some of the money will go toward the CURE. The pink ribbon has even been spotted on handguns and on gas pumps. What next?
We can’t help but be more than a little skeptical.
Check out our FAQs and find out the real story of the pink ribbon. And read more to get information on some of the little pink lies that seem to abound during this time of the year.
We are not saying that no one should give money to research into treatment in support of women (and men too!) who have been diagnosed with or are living with breast cancer. We are saying be an informed donor. Know who you are giving your money to, how much of your money will actually go to the designated cause, what the centre receiving the money will do with your money, and if that will actually move the research along or help in a meaningful way. Will any of this money go towards primary prevention- stopping this disease before it starts?!!!!!
Don’t be misled by what we are calling the little pink lies of breast cancer. Be informed!
After so many years there still seems to be very little money devoted to finding the root causes of this disease (less than 5% goes to prevention). So read on and learn more about some of the myths and misconceptions that are out there.
Little Pink Lie #1:
WE’RE CLOSE TO FINDING A CURE
It’s the tagline for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we hear it every October.
It’s repeated over speakers at fundraising events, reprinted in every newspaper and magazine article on the subject. And it’s one of the biggest of the little pink lies.
With the exception of hormonal therapy, women diagnosed with breast cancer today face the same treatment options – surgery, radiation and chemotherapy that they did forty years ago, when the War on Cancer was first declared. Dr. Susan Love, America’s best known breast-cancer surgeon and activist, calls these treatments “slash, burn and poison”.
We have learned that breast cancer takes many forms, but the cure or cures remain elusive despite enormous sums of money poured into research. And the answers may continue to elude us as long as the research community continues to be fragmented, with reports of studies replicating extensive work already done, while several areas of potentially critical importance have received little or no attention.
With all the organizational, corporate and media attention focused on this elusive “cure,” relatively little attention has been paid to prevention.
Little Pink Lie #2:
RATES OF BREAST CANCER ARE DECREASING.
The decrease in mortality is attributed to reduced use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), following the acknowledgement by the scientific community that HRT use increases breast cancer risk. But breast cancer remains the most common cancer in women globally, and will affect 1 in 9 Canadian women in their lifetime.
Moreover, breast cancer rates are increasing in developing countries. That’s where half of breast cancer cases are estimated to occur, and the majority are diagnosed at later stages of the disease. This increase in breast cancer incidence in the developing world is likely the result of the proliferation of synthetic chemicals in the environment, and is no way countered by the pink ribbon campaigns.
Little Pink Lie #3:
PINK RIBBONS MEAN COMPANIES CARE
The wide range of pink ribbon products that appear every October allow the companies that produce them to label themselves as supporters of the fight against breast cancer - and they encourage us to feel we’re contributing to the cause by buying these goods. But it’s often unclear what proportion of the sale price will be donated, or if there’s a cap on donations. Too often, the manufacturer fixes a predetermined amount they will donate, regardless of the volume of sales. In other cases, we’re told that a portion of sales will go to support breast cancer research - but the specific organization or organizations that will benefit go unnamed.
Even more troubling are the pink ribbon companies that support breast cancer research while also manufacturing products containing ingredients that may cause breast cancer. An automobile manufacturer may claim to support the fight against breast cancer while making and selling vehicles that emit carcinogens or mutagens (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). Cosmetic companies feature pink-ribbon products containing known or suspected carcinogens (e.g., lead in lipstick) or endocrine disruptors (e.g., phthalates in perfumes). There are food giants who pack soups in cans lined with bisphenol-A, a recognized toxicant, and then stick a pink ribbon on the label. Even worse are those multinationals that create and sell both cancer-causing pesticides and the drug used to treat the disease.
We call this pinkwashing. And it’s poisonous.
Bottom line: there are certainly corporate entities who channel some of their profits into serious efforts to combat breast cancer but the nature of the marketplace is such that most companies care about making a profit and projecting a positive image. They don’t care about preventing breast cancer.
Little Pink Lie #4:
GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS PROHIBIT THE USE OF KNOWN
OR SUSPECTED CARCINOGENS IN CONSUMER PRODUCTS
On June 20, 2011, the Federal Government introduced the Consumer Product Safety Act. In the government’s press release (available at <http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/nr-cp/_2011/2011_81-eng.php>), Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq stated that she was “pleased that our Government now has the power to remove dangerous products from the store shelves", and that “as a mom, the new legislation gives me more confidence in the toys and products I give to my child". The stated purpose of this Act is commendable - as noted on the government’s website (<http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/legislation/acts-lois/ccpsa-lcspc/index-eng.php>) it was designed to protect the public by addressing or preventing dangers to human health or safety posed by consumer products in Canada, including those that circulate within Canada and those that are imported.
The Consumer Product Safety Act does not include carcinogens. Yet, the presence of a carcinogen in a product clearly meets the Act's definition of 'danger to human health'.
Until the day the government issues an outright ban on these ingredients, strictly-enforced labeling regulations are the very least we can demand.
BCAM is asking Health Canada to:
- Prohibit the use of any chemicals that are inherently carcinogenic or mutagenic, as well as those that have been identified as reproductive toxins in products sold in Canada. This echoes the Precautionary Approach already taken within the European Union, and Canada should at the very least implement the same standards.
- Mandate that manufacturers of consumer products supply full and complete safety data tests for all chemical ingredients and nanoparticles used in their formulations. Currently, many ingredients including those used in cosmetics are not reviewed for safety before they are released to consumers. For example, cosmetic companies are only required to send an ingredient list to Health Canada ten days after the product goes on the market.
- Mandate that producers supply full environmental and health data on each chemical used in their formulations to Health Canada. Currently, most chemicals lack comprehensive testing information.
BCAM has created an online petition to lobby for these regulatory changes. To read and sign the petition, please go to www.acsqc.ca.
Little Pink Lie #5:
WE LACK EVIDENCE THAT ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS AFFECT BREAST CANCER.
At least 100,000 chemicals have been introduced into our environment in the past 60 years. They are formulated and engineered into an infinite number of products and processes in commerce today. During roughly that same period, breast cancer incidence in Canada has risen from one in 40 women to one in 9.
There is a wide and growing body of research on how chemicals, radiation and other environmental factors are carcinogens. Yet, this is still not clearly understood by the public. For example, many women wonder if they have a genetic predisposition for this disease. Yet only about 5% to 10% of breast cancers are estimated to be influenced by family history. We know that exposures to common chemicals contribute to the unacceptably high incidence of breast cancer.
The evidence continues to mount, both in terms of breast cancer and a host of other chronic diseases and conditions – Parkinson’s disease, learning disabilities, infertility, lymphoma, and so on. Note these important findings:
- synthetic chemicals often mimic the action of estrogen
- the greater a woman’s lifetime exposure to estrogen, the greater her risk of breast cancer;
- estrogen-like chemicals are bisphenol-A, polyvinyl chloride, phthalates like dibutyl phthalate and DEHP – plasticizers found on shelves of your local grocery store and in your beauty salon;
- we are constantly exposed to a ‘chemical soup’, chemicals that can have a cumulative, synergistic and even multiplier effects;
- while low-dose, long-term, chronic exposures have been understudied, there is convincing evidence of harm.
Even when exposure to certain chemicals hasnot been proven to cause breast cancer, many environmental epidemiologists advocate the reduction of exposure to environmental pollutants. This advice adheres to the Precautionary Principle, a “safety first” premise that states that preventive action must be taken when there are reasonable scientific grounds for believing a process or product may not be safe, or cause-and-effect relationships are not fully understood.
There is an inescapable relationship between rates of breast cancer and the widespread use of man-made chemicals. To learn more, read State of the Evidence: The Connection Between the Environment: The Connection Between the Environment and Breast Cancer (6th ed., 2010).