Lifting the Pink Ribbon Blindfold

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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:  http://ff.hrw.org/film/pink-ribbons-inc?city=4

*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.