Category archives: News

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Workers memorial day inches closer 28th April – get your t-shirts, stickers + posters

Pink Ribbons, Inc Woman’s hour debate 28/3/12

The thorny issue of breast cancer prevention

One of the founder members of the Alliance for Cancer Prevention, Professor Andrew Watterson from the Centre for Public Health and Population Health Research at the University of Stirling joined Lea Pool, director of Pink Ribbons, Inc  and Maggie Alexander from Breakthrough, on Woman’s Hour to discuss the film.

Lea explained the difficulty she had in identifying where the money raised for breast cancer went, what she did find out was that only 5% of money raised goes to environmental causes. She explained the term “pinkwashing” which means, on the one hand selling products to raise money for the disease, while on the other, using ingredients in that product which are linked to causing the disease. She reflected that breast cancer is a good cause for big corporations as women make 80% of the buying decisions.

She talked of her surprised when, at one of the walks for breast cancer, there was less than an 18 second silence to remember those who had died from the disease, which was proceeded by loud music and much cheerfulness. She thought that for many people this is not the right way to remember those who have died or to contextualise this disease. Lea advises us to be more political astute and critical about where the money raised for breast cancer goes and how it spent.

Maggie Alexander said that Breakthrough is looking at unpicking the multiple causes of breast cancer which are a combination of genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors, 17% of the money they spend on research goes on addressing these causes.

Andrew Watterson thought that there is very little focus on prevention and the tendency is to look at the cancer rather than the cancer causing chemicals and substances, which is what the film is flagging up. 216 chemicals are linked to breast cancer. Yet, when there is talk about prevention it’s about lifestyle factors and what the individual can do, the known and suspected environmental and occupational risk factors are not addressed.

“However there is an awful lot that we don’t know, assessments have said that 50% of breast cancer we can’t explain, there is recent research done which indicates that something like 85% of breast cancers are due to long term exposures to environmental cancer causing substances, that would include diet and other things. So, there are areas we know can take effective action on.” said Andrew Watterson.

Along with the lack of action on prevention, there is much inequality in terms of exposure to carcinogens. This linked to the fact that some socio-economic groups are not only exposed to higher levels of carcinogens but to more types of carcinogens and often for a much longer time than other groups. This adds another dimension to the action needed to address this epidemic.

Research on night shift work estimates that 2,000 women in the UK will contract breast cancer because of this work, this is way over the figures presented for what environmental and occupational exposures will do in terms of breast cancer causation.

“There needs to be interventions now, along with treating cancer, preventing exposures to carcinogens is critical. We can prevent certain things, we can remove carcinogens, which is what the World Health Organisation (WHO) approach is, act upstream and stop people falling ill if you can and of course treat them when necessary”.

When you look at what the charities are doing on prevention, many of these messages are being lost, it’s only some groups like the Alliance for Cancer prevention which address prevention, the bigger charities are very pharmacologically focused.

Elements of the pink ribbon campaign have been taken over and skewed. Ironically companies that produce carcinogens that are linked to causing  breast cancer, are also sponsoring campaigns to support breast cancer.

Breakthrough’s corporate partners distribute pink ribbons and breast awareness messages and when they do sell products for breast cancer, Breakthrough gets between 10-30%. Maggie points out that breast cancer is a multifactorial disease and that current evidence is that environmental chemicals play a very small role in breast cancer. Andrew suggests that we know enough to act now.

The Alliance is interested in hearing about the evidence Breakthrough has looked at when arriving at the conclusion that “there is no good evidence”? What is the definition of “good evidence”?

If, as Breakthrough suggests in an item on their website about the woman’s hour piece, that there is ” no good evidence that exposure to environmental chemicals increases your risk of breast cancer, based on the levels that you would normally be exposed to in the UK”. What are the ‘normal’ levels? Are there any normal levels of manmade chemicals with CMR properties (carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic)?

Are the Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC’s) – that we know can interfere and disrupt the action of  hormones in our bodies, at much lower levels than we previously thought – counted as “environmental chemicals”? If so, which environmental chemicals would we normally be exposed too ?

Given that many of these chemicals and substances are manmade and should be regulated anyway, if there is no good evidence to suggest these ‘normal’ levels are harmful, why do they need regulation?

If regulation has helped to decrease levels of certain environmental chemicals or substances, which ones are decreasing?

Isn’t part of the problem in our workplaces that the levels we are exposed to are not ‘normal’ and we don’t fully understand the actions of these chemicals or substances, so they are not properly regulated?

The scientific debate has moved on considerably since we all thought that the dose makes the poison i.e. it was how much of a chemical we were exposed to that caused the problem. We know the science now points to extremely low doses having an impact and it’s more the timing of the exposure rather than the dose that is the problem.

The alliance does not suggest that environmental and occupational risk factors are the main cause of breast or any other cancer, just a very much neglected one.

And lastly, if the WHO acknowledges the environmental and occupational risk factors for cancer, why is the cancer establishment lagging so far behind?

You can listen to the piece here, it begins at 19.05: Woman’s hour episode 28/3/12

The WHO recognises low estimat…

The WHO recognises low estimate of 19% cancer related to enviro/occ factors, why do BC charities continue to deny the link? @BBCWomansHour

Lifting the Pink Ribbon Blindfold

The Big see smaller copy

Lifting the Pink Ribbon blindfold

The upcoming showing of the film, Pink Ribbons, Inc raises the question once again of how the money raised through pink ribbon products, runs, climbs, and jumps is spent? Each year, millions of pounds are raised through the pink ribbon brand in the name of breast cancer.  But are we running for the cure or just running away from the cause?

Way back in 2002 the National Cancer Research Institute published their report into prevention and risk research in the UK. Then, less than 2% (£6.3m) was spent on prevention of all cancers, in 2011 this has risen to a heady 3.4% (£17.1m).

So preventive action on breast cancer gets an even smaller percentage of the funds, less than 5% of funds raised for breast cancer goes towards primary prevention ie stopping the disease before it starts, yet we know that some 50-70% of cases could be linked to exposures in the workplace, the home and the wider environment and are therefore preventable.

While a couple of million might seem like a reasonable amount, current initiatives and research into prevention to tackle breast cancer focus on ‘life style factors’ and responsibility is laid at the feet of the individual through emphasis on bad diet, lack of exercise, smoking, drinking, and delayed childbirth.

The naked facts:

  • Breast cancer cases in women have risen from 24,174 in 1980 to 47,693  in 2008.
  • Over the last two decades 1 in 12 to 1 in 8 women risk developing breast cancer at some point in their lives.
  • In the 30 year period (1975/6 to 2005/6)  breast cancer in women has increased by 64%.

Despite the warlike terminology we are definitely not winning this war on breast cancer. Why?

While there are certain risk factors we can do nothing about, such as, the genes we inherit, where we are born, the places our parents lived and worked in; we can act on primary prevention and working to decrease environmental and occupational risk factors. For women, one of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer, being a woman, is non-negotiable.

Definitions of words like prevention seem to take on new meanings, with prevention now narrowly defined in terms of detection, lifestyle or pharmacologic interventions. There is little or no attention paid to the social, political and physical environmental factors that all play into cancer incidence and prevalence. This was highlighted by the Stirling University Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety Research Group’s letter to the Guardian last year  in response to the Cancer Research UK funded report which stated that 40% of cancer could be prevented by lifestyle changes.

The evidence pointing to * environmental and occupational risk factors contributing to the ever rising incidence of breast cancer has long ago reached its tipping point, yet research money for prevention is consistently diverted away from any action on these confounding factors. The question remains as to why there is no perceivable advice or action on these risk factors?

One way to ensure primary prevention is addressed is to ‘follow the money’ we raise for breast cancer.  Of course we want better treatment and care for those living with cancer and we want quicker and safer detection methods but not at the expense of stopping breast cancer before it starts.

To see a trailer and buy tickets for Pink Ribbons, Inc click here:

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


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Pink Ribbon Inc – the corporate pinkwash

Pink Ribbon Inc is Lea Pool’s critical investigative documentary on the culture of the pink ribbon. The film explores the history of breast cancer, corporate fundraising, and the presentation of breast cancer campaigns in the media, each return to the run makes the effort seem more problematic. Pink Ribbons, Inc. focuses on the increased involvement of corporations in fundraising campaigns ­which goes as far as outright ownership in some cases ­and the impact it has had on breast cancer ‘culture’ and media messages about women with breast cancer

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