Category archives: Breast Cancer

Thought Provoking Questions Raised in Breast Cancer Debate


Pink ribbosn inc screening brighton

The Alliance for Cancer Prevention took part in a screening of Pink Ribbons Inc in Brighton on the 13th March 2013. The event organised for the Ngender seminar series by Ana Porroche-Escudero and Grazia de Michele was very well attended and there was a very thought provoking discussion afterwards.

Read the blog piece from the Ngender Seminar site below:

Thanks to all who participated in a lively and inspiring evening around breast cancer awareness. After the Pink Ribbons, Inc. film, our three panelists briefly introduced themselves, their experiences and their work.

Helen Lynn has been campaigning for 17 years for breast cancer. She believes breast cancer can be viewed as a form of violence against women; women are consigned to what could be a preventable disease as chemicals that are in everyday use remain largely untested, or even worse, they continue to be used after they have been linked to cancer. Hence, women are exposed needlessly and wilfully to chemicals which are linked to the disease. The organisation, Alliance for Cancer Prevention brings women and men together to work on these issues. More here.

 

Tackling occupational cancer should mean preventing it, not taking a ‘3 monkeys’ approach

Press Release

13/3/13

smaller poster copy (2)

Photo-op 8.30am Thursday 14th March, British Library, Gate No 5 Midland Road.

Campaigners against occupational and environmental cancer will hold a photo op outside the British Library, HSE conference on Tackling Occupational Diseases.  Women’s work-cancer is almost totally ignored by the HSE so campaigners will leave bras behind as a protest against the denial, delay and dithering that will kill more women from breast cancer especially.

Government, employers and the Health and Safety Executive are consigning thousands of workers to occupational cancer by their ‘3 monkeys’ approach to ‘tackling’ occupational disease.  Occupational cancer kills up to 18,000 men and women each year (1) yet action on prevention has been side-lined in favour of yet more research, and still work-related cancer in women is virtually ignored condemning more women to suffer and die.

HSE’s old fashioned, outdated approaches miss many modern workplace risks but especially ignore women’s cancers, specifically breast cancer, as researchers have recently shown (2, 3).  Campaigners will reinforce this point by leaving their bras outside the British Library as a protest against this approach.

“The Hazards Campaign has accused the HSE of dithering, denying and delaying over occupational cancer, and employers and government are also guilty of doing almost nothing on prevention for all work-cancers.  But this ‘3 monkeys’ approach is especially deadly for work-related cancer in women which has been completely ignored, under-researched and so much less likely to be targeted for preventative action.”  Said Hilda Palmer of the Hazards Campaign.

“Occupational and environmental breast cancer is largely preventable and we hope this strategic meeting organised by the HSE will call for that.  For female cancers, specifically breast cancer, not to act now in a precautionary way, applying existing knowledge to reduce the occupational and environmental risk factors could be viewed as an act of wilful neglect.”  Said Helen Lynn from the Alliance for Cancer Prevention.

Traditional approaches to try and regulate the amount of exposure to certain chemicals in occupational and environmental settings are unworkable in light of what we know about chemicals which interfere with our endocrine systems (the body’s messenger system).  These endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are intrinsically linked with cancer and act singularly and in combination to increase the risk of breast and other cancers.

WHO estimates that as much as 24% of human diseases and disorders are at least partly due to environmental factors including chemical exposures. The report states: “Many endocrine diseases and disorders are on the rise and the speed at which they are increasing rules out genetic factors as the sole plausible explanation” (4)

Recent research highlighting excesses of breast cancer in occupations such as agricultural, automotive plastics, and food canning industries found women workers had elevated breast cancer risk, up to 5 times higher than the controls in certain sectors such as automotive plastics (3)

And yet another paper on the issue stated: “Primary prevention of cancer of environmental and occupational origin reduces cancer incidence and mortality, and is highly cost effective; in fact, it is not just socially beneficial because it reduces medical and other costs, but because it avoids many human beings suffering from cancer.” (5)

The United Steelworkers union in the US has acted immediately on this research by alerting their members and calling for substitution, chemical law reform and health and safety improvements.(6)

Yet the UK cancer establishment continued to assure women there is no need to worry and falls back on the archaic and limited risk reduction strategy of better diet, more exercise and limiting alcohol. (7)

Hilda Palmer of the Hazards campaign says: “We want this HSE meeting to make publicly explicit the extent, and preventable nature, of all occupational cancers; that prevention must be prioritised by government, employers and the HSE; that exposure to all cancer risks must be eliminated or reduced to as low a level as possible, and that women’s cancer risks must now be targeted for prevention”

Helen Lynn. Alliance for Cancer Prevention 07960033687
www.allianceforcancerprevention.org.uk

Hilda Palmer. Hazards Campaign: 079298 00240
www.hazardscampaign.org.uk

Event photo here.

Notes to Editor:

  1. Burying the evidence Hazards Magazine.
  2. ‘This man knows all about cancer Article on the work of Simon Pickvance. Hazards 117, Rory O’Neill
  3. J. T. Brophy et al., “Breast Cancer Risk in Relation to Occupations with Exposure to Carcinogens and Endocrine Disruptors: A Canadian Case-Control Study,Environmental Health 11(87) (2012): 1-17, doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-11-87
  4. WHO/UNEP report on the State of the Science for Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Report.
  5. Espina C, Porta M, et al. Environmental and Occupational Interventions for Primary Prevention of Cancer: A Cross-Sectorial Policy Framework. Environ Health Perspect. Advanced publication here.
  6. United Steelworkers Hazards Alert on occupational breast cancer.
  7. Does your job increase your breast cancer risk? Breakthrough comments on the recent research published in Canada that links occupation to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Here.

 

Pink Ribbons, Inc. Screening and Panel Discussion for International Women’s Day

BY ANA PORROCHE-ESCUDERO, ON JANUARY 29TH, 2013 – posted on Breast Cancer Consortium Website originally.

Breast cancer campaigns are all around us. Events from marathons to bake sales are regularly organized to raise money for breast cancer programs and charities. More and more companies now have ‘pink ribbon products’ – teddy bears, perfume, and bras to name very few – with sales that allegedly result in a donation to charities. Who is really benefiting from all this pink paraphernalia? Where is the truth about women’s health and well-being in the breast cancer discourse that accompanies the fundraising? What about women’s rights to accurate and comprehensive information about their health and treatment options? Who is responsible for keeping the pink ribbon machinery alive? And who is responsible for regulating it? These are the questions we will contemplate on Tuesday, March 5th, 2013 following a screening of the the powerful and thought-provoking documentary film Pink Ribbons, Inc.

The NGender Seminar Series at the University of Sussex has has teamed up with Breast Cancer Consortium member Dr. Ana Porroche-Escudero (University of Sussex) and Dr. Grazia de Michelle to co-host a special session on Breast Cancer Awareness to celebrate International Women’s Day. The event will involve the screening of Pink Ribbons, Inc. followed by questions and answers between the public and an expert panel. Confirmed speakers are Helen Lynn (Facilitator at Alliance for Cancer Prevention) and Dr Grazia de Michelle (breast cancer patient and advocate). Professor Gillian Bendelow (University of Sussex) will chair the session. Stay tuned for updates about the venue and confirmed panelists.

The goal of the event is to spur discussion and raise consciousness about the system-wide factors that impact breast cancer as an individual experience, a social problem, and a health epidemic. The “cult of pink kitsch” common in mainstream breast cancer campaigns has been criticized, for example, for promoting a message of cheerful celebration and the false impression that the fight against breast cancer is being won. This approach has led to billions of dollars being siphoned into branding and funding campaigns that exaggerate the preventive and therapeutic effects of screening, genetic testing, treatments, breast self-examination and everyday control of one’s lifestyle, despite the fact that health professionals have strongly challenged the efficacy of these techniques. Likewise, the link between breast cancer and everyday exposures to toxins and hormone disruptors at home and at work are conveniently ignored. Many campaigns also obscure the realities of breast cancer, choosing instead to focus on the fun and sexy awareness motif that has gained popularity in recent years. Billions of dollars every year are raised in the name of breast cancer, but  more and more women are diagnosed with the disease each year (including increasing rates of younger women); tens of thousands of women and hundreds of men continue to die each year from metastatic (stage IV disease); breast cancer recurrence remains a staggering impediment to survivorship; and, even with incremental improvements in breast cancer treatment Dr. Susan Love MD’s characterization of the “slashburn, and poison” approach to breast cancer as the contemporary norm suggests a serious lag in medical progress.

This event is funded by the University of Sussex Doctoral School Researcher Led Initiave Fund.

Read a Breast Cancer Consortium Review of the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. by Helen Lynn and an Breast Cancer Consortium Interview with Dr. Samantha King, author of the book upon which the film is based.

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Occupational breast cancer, a much neglected gender issue

Alliance for Cancer Prevention

Press release
Embargo until 00.01 Friday 7th December 2012

Occupational breast cancer, a much neglected gender issue

London, UK (December 7th 2012)

New research has serious implications for elevated rates of breast cancer and reproductive disorders among women working in the plastics industry in the UK. (1) The paper published in the journal New Solutions supports recent findings by the Canadian researchers, Dr Jim Brophy and Dr Margaret Keith. Their epidemiological study found a five-fold elevated breast cancer risk for premenopausal women working in the plastics industry in Canada. (2)

The New Solutions study, carried out in association with the University of Stirling, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers and the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health, did a review of the toxicology, epidemiology, industrial hygiene literatures in conjunction with qualitative research looking at occupational exposures for the plastics industrie’s largely female workforce.

The review revealed the body burdens of women working in the industry have much higher levels of hormone disrupting chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, styrene and acrylonitrile than the general population.  These chemicals are all used in plastics production and some can leach out of the products over time, further affecting women and children’s health.

But the real impact on women workers in the UK is harder to assess.  For the 200,000 workers reported by Professor Andrew Watterson to be working in the UK plastics industry, there is no available data break down by gender. (3) Given the serious implications for women workers highlighted in this research, this further illustrates the serious lack of attention and consideration paid to women’s occupational health in the UK.  There is also obvious significance for other sectors where women work with BPA and other endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Breast cancer rates in the UK have risen by 90% over the thirty year period 1971 – 2010 according to the ONS. (4) Yet occupational and environmental exposures are continually left out of the picture when risk factors are addressed.

The alliance believes a tipping point has been reached with the growing and compelling body of evidence linking breast cancer to life-time and pre-birth exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. Failure to act now is to consign women to face elevated breast risk by working in environments where they are exposed daily to a cocktail of carcinogenic, mutagenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals manufacturing products for consumption. This is just not acceptable.

Current EU work on reviewing the strategy and criteria for identifying ED chemicals and substances needs to be informed by this research and take into account women’s workplace exposures. (5)

The Alliance for Cancer Prevention thinks that this is not just an occupational issue, it is a social issue and a public health issue but predominantly it should be a gender issue. We need to get better at making the connections between environmental, occupational and social issues.

While there has been considerable progress in eliminating chemicals like BPA from baby products, the fact remains that women are still being exposed to EDCs in the workplace.  When it comes to EDCs, risk regulation does not protect women workers or future generations. Many women work in the early stages of pregnancy and while breast feeding, unfortunately a women’s body burden can be passed on to the develop foetus and unwittingly through breast milk.

Maybe the issue needs reframing in terms of exposure at work being an unwarranted and preventable assault on women’s bodies that prevents them from reaching the highest attainable standard of health. Through CEDAW, women as workers have an enshrined legal right to protection of their health and safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction. (6)

The take home message for women as workers, citizens and consumers is, there are no safe levels of EDCs.

Alliance for Cancer Prevention

Facilitator Helen Lynn m: 07960 033 687

email: info@allianceforcancerprevention.org.uk
www.allianceforcancerprevention.org.uk

@Cancer_Alliance

Notes to editor

(1)     DeMatteo R, et al. “Chemical Exposures of Women Workers in the Plastics Industry with Particular Reference to Breast Cancer and Reproductive Hazards”. New Solutions, Vol. 22(4) 427-448, 2012

(2)     J. T. Brophy et al., “Breast Cancer Risk in Relation to Occupations with Exposure to Carcinogens and Endocrine Disruptors: A Canadian Case-Control Study,Environmental Health 11(87) (2012): 1-17, doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-11-87.

(3)     Chemical exposure at work is putting Scottish plastic workers at risk of breast cancer. Stirling University Press Release.

(4)     Office for National Statistics. Breast Cancer: Incidence, Mortality and Survival, 2010.

(5)     How the European Commission addresses challenges posed by endocrine disruptors. 

(6)     Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against women. (Article 11)  UK ratified the convention in 1986.

(7)     Endocrine disrupting chemicals are substances that alter one or more functions of the endocrine system (the bodies messenger system) and consequently cause adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub) populations. (WHO definition).

(8)     Environmental and occupational risk factors are exposures (either occupational or environmental) through air, soil, or water or direct contact with chemicals or substances which contribute to a cancer outcome by nature of their carcinogenicity, mutagenicity or endocrine disrupting abilities and properties.

Press Release: Dramatic shift from regulation to elimination called for in light of increased occupational breast cancer risk

A dramatic policy switch to eliminate exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) must be the main focus of the EU’s EDC strategy (1) currently being reviewed in order to address the shocking levels of breast cancer caused by work. The Alliance for Cancer Prevention demands a refocus of the EDC strategy in the wake of new research which shows working in certain jobs can elevate women’s breast cancer risk. The international case control study (2),  led by the University of Stirling’s Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety Research Group (OEHRG) found that women working for 10 years in jobs classified as highly exposed increased their breast cancer risk by 42 per cent.

Study authors Dr James Brophy and Dr Margaret Keith said of the results: “Diverse and concentrated exposures to carcinogens and hormone disrupting chemicals in some workplaces can put workers at an increased risk for developing cancer.”

Risk factors were especially high for those pre-menopausal women working in the automotive plastics and food-canning sectors, with up to five times higher risk than those in the control groups. The study looked at cumulative exposure for women which started before menarche, through first full term pregnancy, onto menopause and post menopause.  The occupational sectors studied were farming, plastics, food canning, metal working and bar/casino/racecourses in southern Ontario, Canada. (5)

Professor Andrew Watterson, head of the OEHRG at Stirling University and co-author of the study said: “Many workers face multiple exposures to chemicals, not only from their employment, but from their everyday environment. Many of the women included in the study were exposed to a virtual ‘toxic soup’ of chemicals. Untangling work and wider factors in the possible causes of breast cancer is an important global issue”.

Likely substances forming the ‘toxic soup’ included: pesticides use in farming and food production; plasticisers, flame retardants, phthalates, BPA, styrene, and vinyl chloride used in the automotive plastics industry; second hand tobacco smoke (pre-smoking ban) and shift working in bars and racecourses; and solvents and PAH’s in metal work industries.

Many of these substances are known or suspected carcinogens, mutagens and endocrine disrupting chemicals. (6) Cumulative exposure to EDCs in particular has been implicated in elevated risk for breast and other cancers, reproductive disorders, early puberty, immune system dysfunction, birth defects and neurological effects. EDCs have been shown to act cumulatively, in combination and at extremely low levels.

Helen Lynn, facilitator for the Alliance said: “The situation is no different in Canada than it is in the UK. This is not just an occupational issue, we as consumers are perpetuating the problem. Consigning women to face an increasing breast risk by working in environments where they are exposed daily to a cocktail of carcinogenic, mutagenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals to manufacture products for consumption is just not acceptable. Workplace regulations don’t appear to cover for endocrine disruptors. The UK government and cancer establishment is complacent due to its inaction. Ignorance is bliss and efforts to regulate EDCs and mixtures of EDCs are undermined by a focus on regulating risks instead of taking a hazard based approach to these substances, to which there are no safe levels.”

Talking about the research Dr Keith reflected that study could also have wider implications for society as a whole. We may be exposed to many of these same cancer-causing and endocrine-disrupting chemicals on a daily basis, albeit likely at much lower levels. The study also points to the need to re-evaluate occupational and environmental exposure standards, keeping in mind that there may be no determinable safe levels to cancer-causing or hormone-disrupting chemicals.

The Alliance for Cancer Prevention believes a turning point has been reached with this study, and we must heed the warning.  Lifestyle or genetic factors alone cannot be blamed for the increasing rise in breast cancer. Other factors are at play such as occupational and environmental exposures and we need to include these as risk factors when strategising ways to prevent this disease. No women should have to deal with ever present risk of breast cancer because of the work she does.

The Alliance for Cancer Prevention demands an urgent refocus of the EDC strategy to eliminate exposure to EDCs. We call on the UK government to support a hazard’s based approach to identification and assessment of EDCs including mixtures of EDCs across all exposures in the workplace and for the public in general.

Ends

 The Alliance for Cancer Prevention is a multi-stakeholder alliance of trade unions, public health advocates, civil society and environmental NGOs in the UK groups campaigning on cancer prevention with the aim of getting recognition for the environmental and occupational risk factors for cancer. (9)

www.allianceforcancerprevention.org.uk

Prof: Andrew Watterson: 01786 466283 or 07 563 195 904. a.e.watterson@stir.ac.uk
Helen Lynn 07960 033 687 info@allianceforcancerprevention.org.uk

Notes to Editor:

  1. EU Commission Strategy for Endocrine Disruptors and Draft report on theProtection of Public Health from Endocrine Disruptors.
  2. Study available to download from here: Breast cancer risk in relation to occupations with exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors: a Canadian case–control study
  3. Notation: Brophy, J., Keith, M., Watterson, A., Park, R., Gilbertson, M., Maticka-Tyndale, E., Beck, M., Abu-Zahra, H., Schneider, K., Reinhartz, A., DeMatteo, R., & Luginaah, I. (2012). “Breast cancer risk in relation to occupations with exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors: A Canadian case control study.” Environmental Health. http://www.ehjournal.net
  4. The case control study, involving 1006 women with breast cancer and 1146 without the disease, revealed that women who worked for 10 years in jobs classified as highly exposed increased their breast cancer risk by 42 per cent.
  5. The study found several occupational sectors in which there was elevated breast cancer risk details can be found on the Press release from Stirling University
  6. State of the Art Report of Endocrine Disruptors by Kortenkamp et al. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/endocrine/documents/4_SOTA%20EDC%20Final%20Report%20V3%206%20Feb%2012.pd
  7. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are substances that alter one or more functions of the endocrine system (the bodies messenger system) and consequently cause adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub)populations. (WHO definition).
  8. A summary of the research findings by the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health.
  9. Environmental and occupational risk factors are exposures (either occupational or environmental) through air, soil, or water or direct contact with chemicals or substances which contribute to a cancer outcome by nature of their carcinogenicity, mutagenicity or endocrine disrupting abilities and properties.

 

 

 

 

 

Pink Ribbons, Inc film showing

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – and ‘pink’ is all around. But not everyone is caught up in ‘pink’. The Alliance for Cancer Prevention in conjunction with Tipping Point Film Fund will host a screening of Pink Ribbons Inc – first screened in the UK at Human Rights Watch Film Festival earlier this year – and which delves into the depoliticisation of the breast cancer epidemic and asks serious questions about prevention.

While Pink Ribbons, Inc. doesn’t seek to undermine those who gain hope, strength and a sense of community from pink ribbon fundraising, Lea Pool does ask critical questions about the industry and the pink ribbon brand. She interviews Samantha King, author of the book Pink Ribbons, Inc.

“It wasn’t until Reagan came to power that we saw explicit policies designed to shift responsibility for health and welfare from the government towards private entities, philanthropic organizations, along with the encouragement specifically for corporations to participate in that.” She suggests that the big players in the cancer establishment also have boards of directors with representatives from the pharmaceutical, chemical and energy industries. It is thus almost impossible to separate the people who might be responsible for the perpetuation of this disease from those who are responsible for trying to find a way to cure or, even better, to prevent it.

There is a really pertinent section of the film which highlights the work of our colleagues Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith in Canada on occupational exposure to carcinogens and EDCs implicated in breast cancer causation. So the film is of interest to Trade Union members in terms of occupational exposures and those who want to campaign for an equal emphasis on prevention as well as treatment and care for those living with breast cancer.

Film Trailer Here:

Pink Ribbons Inc. Directed by Lea Pool, for National Film Board of Canada (97 mins)

Post-Film Discussion

There has been a longstanding effort on the part of campaigners, activists, trade unionists, and researchers alike to draw attention to the much marginalised concerns about the lack of funding for and attention to environmental and occupational links to breast cancer. We are delighted to invite and have some of the most experienced and committed individuals in this area join us for the post film discussion which will explore both the issues raised in the film and with specific reference to the UK landscape. TPFF’s Deborah Burton will chair , who, prior to her work with TPFF, spent many years campaigning on environmental links to breast cancer.

Helen Lynn

Helen Lynn has campaigned on cancer prevention since 1995, initially at the Women’s Environmental Network with Putting Breast Cancer on the Map and the No More Breast Cancer campaign. She is currently a freelance campaigner/researcher at Wildcard Research and facilitates the Alliance for Cancer Prevention in the UK. Helen also reviewed the film here.

Margo Marrone

Margo Marrone, is a pharmacist and homeopath who first became aware of chemical overload on the human body during the 1990’s. She opened her first Organic Pharmacy store in London in 2002, to address this ever growing concern about chemicals in cosmetics and built the business on the principles of honesty, integrity, purity, quality and green environmental thinking. Ten years on it is still a family run business and one that has supported campaigns addressing environmental links to breast cancer.

VENUE & BOOKING
We are screening the film on board the Tamesis Boat – a converted 1930s Dutch Barge.

Tuesday 13th November 6.30 for 7pm Tamesis Dock, Albert Embankment, London.

(between Vauxhall and Lambeth Bridge (nearest) –Fire Station and Park Plaza Hotel on opposite side of the road)

Start: 6.30 for 7pm. Food (snacks and meals) and drinks available – more info here http://www.tdock.co.uk/

Film poster Poster for Pink Ribbons Inc showing

Booking

£4 on the Door

PLEASE EMAIL <info@allianceforcancerprevention.org.uk> to let us know you are coming as we need to know numbers.

Is The HSE Keeping Women In The Dark On Shift Work Breast Cancer Link?

Working night shifts more than twice a week is associated with a 40% increased risk of breast cancer, found a long term study published online on 28 May in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Yet the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the cancer establishment leave women in the dark by taking a “wait and see approach” to this occupational risk factor for breast cancer.

The Danish research found that working less than three night shifts a week doesn’t affect your breast cancer risk, but that frequent night shifts for several years may disrupt biological rhythms and normal sleep patterns, and curb production of the cancer protecting hormone melatonin. Shift work also increases your rate of developing type two diabetes and obesity.

In a recent article in Hazards magazine, Simon Pickvance, a researcher based at Sheffield University and founder member of the Alliance for Cancer Prevention, voiced concern about why the HSE presumes to know better than the UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The Alliance for Cancer Prevention wants to see action to reduce these cases of occupational breast cancer and calls on the HSE to follow the example set by the Danish Government who offered compensation for those already working up to four nights over several years.

UNISON safety reps should demand effective risk assessments on shift patterns and ensure the least unhealthy patterns are adopted. Workers need information about the risk from shift work so they can make an informed choice about what they can do to lessen the risk.

Women worried about the risk from shift work for breast cancer should contact UNISON for advice.

For further information regarding shift work see UNISON’s negotiating on shift work bargaining support guide for workplaces representatives.

Pink Ribbons, inc a review of the film

I remember the first time it really hit me. It was at the 3rd World Conference on Breast Cancer held in Victoria, Canada in 2002.  I walked out onto the balcony overlooking the exhibition hall, and there it was, the sea of pink.

The third world conference wasn’t like the first one initiated in Kingston, Canada in 1997 by Janet Collins who features in the film. In Kingston, it was all about environmental and occupational causes, primary prevention, and cutting edge science. The speakers were iconic in terms of their work on prevention and it was attended by campaigners whose names were recognisable from the radical campaign material we eagerly received from Canada and the US.

At the third world conf, there was an issue with the funding sources, many of the previous speakers from the scientific community weren’t invited, and the campaigners stayed away.

Those of us interested in prevention and environmental exposures met together and decided to spend our time drafted a resolution. The resolution urged governments to ban proven and suspected carcinogens and take a precautionary approach to breast cancer.

Although initially adverse, the conference organisers used the resolution as a basis for the conference press release.  But we were branded. It was the last time I was invited to speak and I was mysteriously dropped from the international advisory group. I felt like, a troublemaker.  But at least I was in good company.

On that balcony, looking at the sea of pink, I first had an image of pink ribbons used like blindfolds to prevent women from seeing the harsh realities of the disease, and like a gag to silence any dissent.  But as Judy Brady (author and activist) points out in the film: “If it were a conspiracy then we could expose it and people would be aware but it’s not, it’s business as usual”.

In less than a decade, we seem to have gone from groups like the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition and the Women’s Community Cancer project shown marching to draw the line at 1 in 8, to woman running in pink feather boas, wearing t-shirts with the pharmaceutical company logos on the back. Rather like that infamous slogan says, running for the cure sponsored by the cause. What the hell happened?

Barbara Ehrenreich, author and activist, puts this into some perspective in the film:

“I think, the fact of the whole pink ribbon culture was to drain and deflect the kind of militancy we had as women who were appalled to have a disease that is epidemic and yet, that we don’t even know the cause of.

We found sisterhood from other women and looking critically at what was going on with our health care. The sisterhood is now supposed to be supplied by the runs and races for the cure, I mean what a change, we used to march in the streets, now you’re supposed to run for a cure or walk for a cure…”

The author of the book Pink Ribbons inc, Samantha King, suggests that the big players in the cancer establishment have boards of directors with representatives from the pharmaceutical, chemical, and the energy industry and its almost impossible to separate the people who might be responsible for the perpetuation of this disease from those who are responsible for trying to find a way to cure or even better, to prevention it.

It’s obvious that emotions like anger, dissent, disbelief and questions about exposures at work, home or in the wider environment don’t seem to sit well with this festival of pink.

 “Actually anger is helpful, depending on what you do with it, I think if people actually knew what was happening they would be really pissed off, they should be”. (Barbara A. Brenner, campaigner)

We could say that the pink ribbon industry has identified its audience well. The premise being that breast cancer only affects, middle class, ultra feminine, white women, because this is the demographic that industry want to sell pink products too.

A question is posed in the film that while millions of dollars have been spent studying the same populations – white, largely middle class women – this research does not translate to the many African, Asian and African American and racially diverse women getting the disease. We know their outcomes aren’t as good as their white counterparts. Yet so little is spent on finding out why. Are they not the right demographic?

Along with the socio economic aspect of breast cancer, the racial, cultural, environmental justice aspect and the occupational inequalities of those who are exposed at work, are at best not addressed, or at worst neglected, unfunded and largely ignored.

Samanatha King reflects: “It wasn’t until Reagan came to power that we saw explicit policies designed to shift responsibility for health and welfare from the government towards private entities, philanthropic organisations along with the encouragement specifically for corporations to participate in that.” Or as Reagan says: “A buck for business if it helps to solve our social ills”.

This is all starting to sound scarily familiar!

The pinkwashing isn’t as insidious here as it is in the states, where pink sells everything for handguns to petrol.

The term pinkwashing is used to describe companies associating with a cause that people care about to basically increase their sales and market pink products.  Breast cancer is the ‘poster child’ of cause marketing.

The irony is, that many of the products sold, specifically cosmetics, perfumes, plastics, and petrochemical based products contain ingredients linked to breast cancer. These products contain chemicals that when put with cells in a laboratory situation, cause breast cancer cells to proliferate.

It is hypocrisy to use carcinogens in products and at the same time be advocating for a cure in another way”, says Jane Houlihan from Environmental Working Group.

We need to ask questions about how the money raised is being spent.

The annual research spend in the UK by the NCRI’s government and charity members is £500m (2010) .  Although breast cancer does get the highest proportion of research money at 20% , only 3.4% of the total budget is spent on prevention overall.

When looked at sceptically, research requires investment and the end product has to be profitable and marketable. There is no profit in prevention or removing carcinogens from the environment, or home or workplace.

One of the most thought provoking things for me in the film was a comment from one of the women attending the Plastics Automotive Industry focus group in Windsor, Ontario given by Dr. Jim Brophy and Dr. Margaret Keith.

The participant said it was the first time she had ever heard that they are finding ingredients in plastics that are mimicking the female hormone, oestrogen, she felt that this message needed to be put out loud and clear.

Despite all the information that is out there on Endocrine Disrupting Chemical’s (EDC’s) it is still not reaching those who need it most. These women were given no health and safety training, or safety data sheets despite working in the plastics industry for decades.

Jim Brophy thinks that: “The evidence is overwhelming – on the impact environmental and occupational exposures have on this disease – very little of the resources are going to looking at pesticides, combustion products, plastics, petrochemicals, and solvents, many of the things that millions of women are being exposed to everyday either in the general ambient environment or their workplaces”.

Yet “Women die from breast cancer just because they are women. …the most important risk factor for breast cancer is being a woman” (Dr. Olufunmilayoi Olopade).

The impact of the warlike terminology used in connection with breast cancer is insightfully commented on by the stage IV breast cancer support group. There are very few of these groups in the US, even fewer, if any here in the UK, given survival rates here flag so far behind other EU countries and the US.

It is particularly poignant as they point out, there is no stage V for breast cancer. One group member reflects, its a tragedy as you’re like an angel of death when you walk into a regular breast cancer support group , they are learning to live and your learning to die.

One of the members sums it up nicely: “We are human beings we are not just a pink ribbon”.

While the film doesn’t seek to undermine those who gain hope, strength and a sense of community from the pink ribbon fundraising, it does ask some strong critical questions about the industry and the pink ribbon brand. Maybe you should too?
Helen Lynn

So what can you do?

Go and see the film. http://www.nfb.ca/film/pink_ribbons_inc_trailer/

Follow the money you raise, ask questions about how it is spent. Try and get into positions of power where you are one of the ones deciding how it is spent.

Follow the example of the Toxic Links Coalition in San Francisco who each year in October organised a toxic tour and visited the branches of the worst polluters in their financial district.

Organise a workplace group to examine what you are exposed to at work. Do it Yourself  research 

Check what’s in the products you buy – to check out cosmetics ingredients go to http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

Don’t accept the blame, if 50% of breast cancer cases have no known cause then it ain’t your fault.

Read the book – Pink Ribbons, Inc by Samantha King.

Check out the Tools for Action on Pink Ribbon Blues Blog 

Remember we can’t shop our way out of this epidemic.