Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Taking a Look at Prevention Resources

Now that I am well beyond breast cancer treatment (other than continuing to take a Tamoxifen pill daily), I'm taking a step back to see not just my own personal journey with breast cancer, but the breast cancer epidemic as a whole. Specifically, I'm learning as much as I can about the links between involuntary chemical exposure and breast cancer risk. It's not a topic breast cancer patients typically hear anything about from their treatment team, or in breast cancer support groups, or in the literature of the vast majority of breast cancer organizations, so I've really had to seek it out.
Some of the best resources I've found are Breast Cancer Action (an empowered voice of unbiased truth, since it is the only national BC organization that doesn't accept money from anyone that profits from or contributes to cancer), the Breast Cancer Fund, the Silent Spring Institute, and Sandra Steingraber's book "Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment." It is clear to me that toxins in our environment and products play a big role in causing cancer. I'm dismayed by how infrequently cancer prevention literature/resources say anything at all about this topic. When chemical exposure IS acknowledged as a cause of cancer, usually the only advice that is given is about how we can each change our personal behaviors, diets, and lifestyles to reduce our exposures. This is important, but not enough. If big corporations continue to contaminate our environment and products with toxins, and the government continues to allow it, our personal choices and behaviors can't make that much of a difference.

I decided to Google "breast cancer prevention" to see what came up. Would the links actually say anything about the link between chemical exposure and cancer risk, and what we can do about it? Googling "breast cancer prevention" (with the quotes) yielded 544,000 results on March 30, 2011. Here I will review the results of the first 3 pages. My guess, without yet looking at any, is that less than 5 of the results from the first 3 pages will say anything about ways in which we women should engage in activism to demand regulation and/or elimination of environmental carcinogens. The websites that talk about involuntary environmental exposures at all will make it only about personal diet and lifestyle changes - e.g. they will tell us to ingest only organic, hormone-free dairy products, but they won't tell us to demand that milk producers stop giving the cows hormones.

Here we go! These are the 27 websites in the first 3 pages of results.

1. MedicineNet -
No mention of environmental pollutants contributing to cancer.

Quote: "...new medications are being developed to reduce the risk of breast cancer among those at high risk of contracting this disease. For the majority of women, lifestyle changes, a healthy diet, cautious use of selected antioxidants, exercise, and weight reduction can also help reduce the chance of developing breast cancer. To date, the most important strategy in improving survival is still breast cancer screening and early detection." 

2. Mayo Clinic-
Mostly advice about lifestyle changes...
Quote: "Breast cancer prevention starts with healthy habits — such as limiting the amount of alcohol you drink and staying physically active. Understand what you can do to prevent breast cancer."
But they DO say a bit about environmental exposures: "Avoid exposure to environmental pollution. While further studies are needed, some research suggests a link between breast cancer and exposure to the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in vehicle exhaust and air pollution."

3. National Cancer Institute-
Quote: "Different ways to prevent cancer are being studied, including: 
• Changing lifestyle or eating habits. 
• Avoiding things known to cause cancer. 
• Taking medicines to treat a precancerous condition or to keep cancer from starting."

In regards to chemical exposure, the NCI actually denies the link to cancer:
"Studies have not proven that being exposed to certain substances in the environment (such as chemicals, metals, dust, and pollution) increases the risk of breast cancer."

4. breastcancerprevention.com-
No mention of chemicals and breast cancer risk.

This is what it says in the "About Us" section: "Clinical research studies offer us the best hope for the proper evaluation of drugs and medical techniques. This site offers you the opportunity to obtain credible information on clinical trial research and to assess your chances of getting breast cancer."

Here's what they say about risk: "Risk for developing breast cancer is individual. It depends on a combination of lifestyle and personal traits known as 'risk factors.' The following risk factors are strongly related to the disease and can alert you and your physician to the need for careful follow-up: * A family history of breast cancer, especially in your mother, sister(s), or daughter(s) 
* Age -- in general, the older you are, the greater your risk 
* Never having borne a child 
* Having your first child after age 30 
* First menstrual period at an early age 
* A history of benign breast disease that required biopsies 
* Other breast conditions: lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or atypical hyperplasia."

5. Breast Cancer Fund-
YAY! BCF GETS IT! The website's tips for breast cancer production DO include choosing safe cosmetics and food and household products, protecting yourself and your family from toxins as much as possible, etc. And YES, there is a tab called "BIG-PICTURE SOLUTIONS" that talks about making prevention a public health priority, and other ways to engage in activism.

6. Breast Cancer Prevention Fund-
Quote: "It could be that a woman of average risk for breast cancer might lower her risk somewhat by changing those risk factors that can be changed. These include giving birth to several children and breast feeding them for several months, not drinking alcohol, exercising regularly, and staying slim. It is also important for women to perform monthly breast self-exams."

Also mentioned as preventative strategies are prophylactic Tamoxifen and mastectomy, smoking cessation, exercise, and prayer. This website exemplifies what I refer to as the "Sandra Dee advice" - nevermind the people who pollute our Earth with cancer-causing chemicals. You'll be alright if you make the effort to be a skinny, hetero, goody two shoes! Have lots of babies! Don't drink and smoke, and watch your figure! PRAY! And if you think that's not enough, chop your breasts off and take a carcinogenic drug!

7. Breast Cancer Prevention Institute-

Wow, actually an anti-choice site masquerading as breast cancer prevention! The vast majority of the site consists of "reports" and "fact sheets" that claim that having an abortion increases your risk of breast cancer. IT DOES NOT.

8. breastcancer.org's "Lower Your Risk" -

Quote: "Some of the factors associated with breast cancer -- being a woman, your age, and your genetics, for example -- can't be changed. Other factors -- maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, smoking cigarettes, and eating nutritious food -- can be changed by making choices. By choosing the healthiest lifestyle options possible, you can empower yourself and make sure your breast cancer risk is as low as possible."

Exposure to chemicals IS listed as an "emerging risk." (i.e. probable risk, but more research is needed). However, the only advise is to not use pesticides on your lawn, choose safe cosmetics, buy organic food, etc. - there is no suggestion of lobbying for the carcinogen-producers to stop producing them.

9. About.com - Cancer -
Top Ten prevention strategies, all diet and lifestyle. No mention of chemicals.

10. National Cancer Institute -

Quote: "The Breast Cancer Prevention Trial (BCPT) was designed to see whether taking the drug tamoxifen (Nolvadex®) could prevent breast cancer in women who are at an increased risk of developing the disease." 

Absolutely NO talk here, of course, about preventing breast cancer by reducing exposure to carcinogens. It's the opposite, in fact - they want women to voluntarily take a carcinogenic substance in an attempt to prevent breast cancer.

11. World Health Organization-

They say that their "key message" is: "Early detection in order to improve breast cancer outcome and survival remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control."

They also say the following about prevention: "Control of specific modifiable breast cancer risk factors as well as effective integrated prevention of non-communicable diseases which promotes healthy diet, physical activity and control of alcohol intake, overweight and obesity, could eventually have an impact in reducing the incidence of breast cancer in the long term."

Then the rest of the webpage is about early detection. Nothing at all about chemicals in the environment.

12. Center for Disease Control-

Prevention strategies listed are the usual "Be a Sandra Dee" stuff - don't drink (or swear or rat your hair), exercise, be skinny, get screened, etc. Then there's a heading that momentarily got me hopeful - "How Can I Help Others In My Community?" Silly me for thinking it might say things like, "boycott KFC's 'Buckets for the Cure' campaign promoting carcinogenic chicken," when the answer is, of course, to just help your neighbors get mammograms.

13. About.com - All About Breast Cancer Prevention and Lowering Your Risk of Breast Cancer

Oddly enough, most of the article is about performing Breast Self-Exams, getting mammograms, and learning about your breasts, none of which actually prevent breast cancer. The article briefly mentions the Sandra Dee lifestyle changes to make - have babies, don't drink, be skinny, yadda yadda.

14. earlycancerdetection.com-

This website is all about why women should have thermograms instead of mammograms. Odd that a site about early DETECTION comes up on the second page of a search for PREVENTION, but it does state: "Why are we experiencing this breast cancer epidemic? While some cancers may arise from an inherited genetic defect (estimated at 5-10%), 90% - 95% arise from damage to the genetic material within normal cells. Genetic damage is a result of hormone imbalances, exposure to certain chemicals, and/or various forms of radiation. Our universe is filled with toxic chemicals which act like estrogens or what we call endocrine disrupters. These may constitute our greatest exposure risk."

15. International Symposium on Breast Cancer Prevention-
Quote: "This multidisciplinary symposium on breast cancer prevention that focuses on epigenetics, nutrition and public policy is organized by the International Breast Cancer and Nutrition (IBCN) group initiated at Purdue University, USA, in partnership with the French School of Public Health (EHESP) in Rennes, France. This initiative recognizes that different countries have unique perspectives which would benefit a sustained international effort to prevent breast cancer, and that the education of trainees in cross-disciplinary and international collaboration is an essential component in addressing global public health-related issues. The goal of this symposium is to bring together global public health actors and advocates, and researchers on breast cancer prevention and nutrition to provide a platform for discussion among scientists, clinicians and other professionals in the biology, epidemiology, medicine, nutrition, communication, education and public policy fields."


16. breasthealthcancerprevention.com - Susun Weed

The best yet! She GETS it!

Quote: "My studies spanning 25 years and many disciplines have convinced me that the majority of breast cancers are causally related to the high levels of radiation and chemicals released into our air, water, soil, and food over the past 50 years. United States government researchers estimate that 80 percent of all cancers are environmentally linked. " "But there’s a limit to the control that any one woman has over her exposure to petrochemicals, radiation, and other environmental cancer-inciters. Limiting the production and discharge of substances that initiate and promote cancer is collective work. When our individual acts are combined with the acts of others, we can achieve the envisioned social change. For example, as I saw more and more evidence that chlorine residues from papermaking contribute to breast cancer, I began to ask for chlorine-free paper from my book printer. They went from amazement and puzzlement at my request to contracting with a new paper supplier who can provide them with elemental chlorine-free paper. (I’m not the only one asking, you see.) " THANK YOU!!!!

17. Web MD
Same old, same old. Prevention strategies listed are exercise, don't take Hormone Replacement Therapy, maintain proper nutrition and diet, and possibly take Tamoxifen.

18. CA - A Cancer Journal for Clinicians-

Here is an analysis of the NCI's prevention tips, which says, in a nutshell, diet and lifestyle changes might be good, but.... Quote: "To date, only two options have been proven to reduce the risk of breast cancer in high-risk patients: Bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and tamoxifen therapy." (They're saying it's not even ENOUGH to be a Sandra Dee - you still may have to have your breasts removed and take a prophylactic carcinogen, nevermind that that's an oxymoron!)

19. Article called "Grab Some Cabbage and Cantaloupe After You Go Jogging," by Lera S. Wenger and David Schlundt, Ph.D.-

Quote: "Recommendations for preventing breast cancer would include many aspects of a person's behavior.[...] most women do not realize they may have a chance at decreasing their odds for developing breast cancer by modifying their behavior."

Ladies, haven't you heard yet?? Change your behavior and you, too, can be a cancer-preventing Sandra Dee! Be young, skinny, and hetero! Have lots of babies ASAP! Forget about cancer-causing chemicals in the environment... Run and eat melon!

20. Doctor Murray

He says this, in the middle of his list of risk factors: "Environmental factors: Among the factors that have been linked to breast cancer in varying degrees are exposure to xenoestrogens (synthetic compounds that mimic estrogen), second-hand smoke, pesticides, herbicides, power lines, electric blankets, radiation, and lack of exposure to sunlight." BUT, the whole article is about diet, nutrition, supplements, and screening. He, like many other alternative health people, acts as if the chemicals are just raining down from the heavens and we can't do anything other than put up our umbrellas.

21. Natural News - Why Isn't It Called Breast Cancer Prevention Month?

This article claims that "Breast cancer is anywhere from 70% - 90% preventable through simple changes in diet, exercise, consumer product use and nutritional supplementation," then goes on to compare conventional cancer treatments to the slavery of Black people. WOW! I...have no words.

22. Dr. Mercola-

Similar to Dr. Murray and Natural News, Dr. Mercola says, "I believe...75 to 90% of breast cancers could be avoided by strictly applying the recommendations I will review below." Then he prattles on and on about diet and lifestyle changes, the usual ones as well as stuff like blending and drinking coconut oil, curcumin, and eggs several times a day. He says nothing at all about how we could be engaging in activism to make the carcinogen-producers stop.

23. Prevention.com-

This is an article that dispels 12 myths about breast cancer. Here's one:

"Myth: Drinking from a plastic water bottle left in a hot car can cause cancer. 
Fact: This rumor falsely claims that dioxins—a group of toxic chemicals associated with an array of health problems, including breast cancer—leach from the heated plastic into the water. Plastics do not contain dioxins, and the sun's rays are not strong enough to create them, says Michael Trush, PhD, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Urban Environmental Health. Most single-use beverage bottles sold in the United States are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a substance tested extensively for safety. There is some evidence that heat can cause bisphenol A (BPA), a compound that's been shown to have estrogenic effects in animal studies, to leach from plastic bottles into the water. (The "estrogenic effects" are thought to impact cancer risk.) However, most single-use water bottles sold in the United States are made from BPA-free plastic. And there's no proven link to breast cancer in women anyway. To be safe, drink from a reusable plastic bottle labeled "BPA free," or choose water bottles with a "1," "2," "4," or "5" in the recycling symbol on the bottom."

So, this is the second website so far that not only doesn't give advice on how to advocate for the elimination of carcinogens in the environment, but in fact does the opposite, and says, eh, it's not so bad.

24. Dr. Weil-
It's just a Q and A about Turmeric and breast cancer prevention. Nothing about environmental exposures.

25. New York Times- "Breast Cancer Prevention and Lifestyle Factors."

Do I even have to read the article to know it doesn't say, "Know who your local representatives are, and call them to support or oppose legislation dealing with chemical regulation"?

26. knowbreastcancer.net

The top 7 strategies for breast cancer prevention are, according to this website: get enough vitamin D, avoid Hormone Replacement Therapy, use safe hair products, find safer alternatives to mammograms, filter your water, manage your estrogen levels, and detox from sugar and alcohol and cigarettes.
Nothing about stopping chemical pollution.

27. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

"Exercise and Breast-cancer Prevention: Study Finds It's Never Too Late to Start, and the Activity Need Not Be Strenuous"

Nope, the article doesn't suggest that you exercise by climbing up and down your staircase while you're having a phone conversation with your local representatives about chemical regulation.

So, were you keeping score?
Here's the tally: out of 27 websites, 2 say that chemical exposure does NOT increase breast cancer risk. Seventeen websites do not say anything at all about chemicals. Eight websites say that chemical exposure increases breast cancer risk. Out of those 8 that acknowledge the link, only 2 websites suggest taking action beyond changing your personal behavior.

We have a long ways to go!


  1. I really appreciate your informative post on Breast cancer Prevention Resources and the lack there of. I too have done so much research in this area and am amazed at how few resources there are for woman to turn to. I am adding this to my list of Breast Cancer Resources that I keep for myself and other women as I am I Holistic Health & Wellness Coach extremely interested in Breast Cancer Prevention. I do like this one as well http://breastcancerchoices.org/

  2. For years we heard "There is no evidence of that". Now we know what they meant was "We haven't been looking in the right places or at the chemicals you are asking about (or any others). Plus you have to prove this stuff unsafe, not us"!

    But now we KNOW, don't we?

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