October is upon us, and everywhere I look I am bombarded by a flood of pink merchandise, not to mention a plethora of pink-themed events demanding my attention and financial contributions. And while I appreciate the well-meaning efforts of so many of my friends who do put time and money into such events and purchases with the intention of combating breast cancer, I cannot join them.
My grandmother had breast cancer, on two occasions, and eventually died of cancer. I have lost multiple family members to cancer, meaning that I have a high risk for this disease, especially since I have never had children, so battling this disease is very near and dear to my heart. What's the problem then? The problem is the politics behind the breast cancer cause.
Please bear with me on this, as this will no doubt make for a lengthy post.
A little background is in order here: Aside from genetic factors and increased risk for non-childbearing women, elevated risk for breast cancer has been linked to environmental and dietary factors such as pesticide and herbicide exposure, ingestion of milk from rBST and rBGH-treated cows, exposure to chlorine-based chemicals, and oestrogenic environmental contamination caused by oral contraceptives. Unfortunately, the same transnational corporations that produce carcinogenic pesticides and herbicides and synthetic hormones also produce mammography equipment and the drugs currently used for cancer treatment. This means that the same corporations that help cause breast cancer have a vested interest in continuing cancer, so that they can continue to sell mammography equipment and cancer treatment drugs. Even with the best of intentions, this cycle is perpetuated because, as Upton Sinclair once said "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding." And part of what keeps this profitable cycle going is the partnership that these companies have developed with the American Cancer Society to focus public "awareness" and prevention funds on mammography rather than on risk prevention, and as a result the ACS maintains a deafening silence on the subject of environmental and dietary carcinogens even as it publicly joins in the pink ribbon frenzy each October.
To add insult to injury, the founder of "National Breast Cancer Awareness Month" is AstraZeneca, owned by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), the creator of tamoxifen, which is the standard drug used in breast cancer treatment. ICI is also a leading manufacturer of industrial chemicals and known carcinogenic pesticides and herbicides, as well as the plastic ingredient polyvinyl chloride, which has been directly linked to breast cancer. AstraZeneca also manages the operation of numerous comprehensive cancer care facilities throughout the United States via their subsidiary Salick Heath Care, so on either end, their paycheck depends on their "not understanding" causality and prevention in relation to breast cancer. It should be noted that in May of 2000, tamoxifen was listed as a "known human carcinogen" by the National Toxicology Program of the US government. Yet the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which receives educational grants from AstraZeneca, has endorsed tamoxifen as a preventative treatment in high-risk women, despite vehement opposition from other breast cancer groups.
On top of that, the focus on mammography as prevention increases the likelihood and frequency of women's exposure to potentially carcinogenic doses of x-rays, while doing little to actually prevent the disease, which the American Cancer Society admits is self-diagnosed in 90 percent of breast carcinoma cases. Nonetheless, the American Cancer Society continues to emphasize mammography as the first line of defense against breast cancer. Notably, five radiologists have served as ACS presidents, and the mammography industry donates funding to and conducts research for the ACS.
What does all this mean? Am I saying that we should not participate in any National Breast Cancer Awareness Month activities or events? Not necessarily. What I am saying is that I am unwilling to contribute resources to organizations claiming to support cancer education and research if they do not include a non-mammography preventative component. I am unwilling to contribute resources to an event or organization without knowing who those resources are going to support - exactly whose cancer research is being funded, for example, and what percentage of funds contributed actually goes toward that research. I am unwilling to contribute resources to events that do not contribute a significant portion of funds gathered to breast cancer organizations that include non-mammography preventive education and other useful information that does not have a significant corporate bias. I am more amenable to contributing resources to breast cancer organizations and events that operate on local levels, despite the fact that many of these organizations and events partner with larger organizations that I am directly opposed to, so long as a significant portion of their funding goes directly to local (non-mammography) patient services and support.
And because I don't like offering a complaint without offering a remedy, a good example of an organization that helps to balance the pro-corporate bias of the ACS is the breast cancer survivor's group Breast Cancer Action: www.bcaction.org. Breast Cancer Action is dedicated to changing the national dialogue about breast cancer to emphasize patients' rights and prevention without corporate bias. For people wanting to contribute to an organization helping to combat this horrible disease, this is a good place to start.