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


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HSE’s old fashioned, outdated approaches miss many modern workplace risks but especially ignore women’s cancers, specifically breast cancer, as researchers have recently shown (2, 3).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

Hilda Palmer. Hazards Campaign: 079298 00240

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.


USA: Stronger chemical laws ‘spur innovation’

Stronger laws to regulate hazardous chemicals spur innovation, with potential benefits for national economies, as well as human health and the environment, according to a new report. ‘Driving innovation: How stronger laws help bring safer chemicals to market’, published by the Washington DC-based Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), concludes that tougher rules to manage chemicals at the global, regional and national levels have sparked the continuous invention of safer chemicals, accelerating the pace at which safer alternatives are developed, and pulled them into the market. “Our study finds that stronger laws governing hazardous chemicals can not only drive innovation, but also create a safer marketplace,” said Baskut Tuncak, staff attorney at CIEL and author of the report. “Well-designed laws spark the invention of alternatives and further help level the playing field to enable safer chemicals to overcome barriers to entry, such as economies of scale enjoyed by chemicals already on the market and the externalised costs of hazardous chemicals on human health.” The report highlights the human health-related costs of intrinsically hazardous chemicals, such as endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals, and recommends their systematic phase-out under international laws. It calls for ‘internalisation’ of the cost of hazardous chemicals by industry, including proving the safety of chemicals on the market and for stronger treaties to create a level playing field globally. (By Rory O’Neill)

Original piece from Risks on line bulletin for health and safety reps and others: subscribe here.

CIEL news release and full report, Driving innovation: How stronger laws help bring safer chemicals to market, CIEL, February 2013.

Silent Killer: What they don’t want you to know.

Canadian newspiece on occupational cancer exposures rising women’s risk of breast cancer. Women are being exposed to a ‘toxic soup’ of carcinogens and hormone disrupting chemicals in the workplace, which the researchers have shown can elevate breast cancer risk for those working in the plastics industry up to 10 times.

“Our regulatory system, the system which actually says how much you can be exposed to both in the environment and in the work place does not account at all for this, its not addressed”. Jim Brophy.

Press Release: WHO/UNEP strongly endorse need to regulate as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) identified as ‘global threat’.


WHO-UNEP report

Press Release:

Immediate release

Alliance for Cancer Prevention


WHO/UNEP strongly endorse need to regulate as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) identified as ‘global threat’.

A new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) comprehensively reviews the state of the science on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).  It outlines the very serious and immediate threat to human health and wildlife from EDCs and signals the urgent need for effective regulation and testing of these chemicals.

The report estimates that as much as 24% of human diseases and disorders are due at least in part to environmental factors which include chemical exposures. “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”.

The Alliance is concerned that the one of the most worrying assessments from the report is that we are only looking at the ‘tip of the iceberg’ on this issue. Some 800 chemicals are known or suspected of interfering with our hormones.  Yet only a small fraction of these chemicals have been tested.  We are exposed to EDCs through everyday contact in our workplaces or homes to certain plastic products, cosmetics, furniture, computers, toys, construction materials and other products, materials and goods. We are exposed through the food we eat, the water we drink and the very air we breathe. EDCs may also be by-products formed during manufacture or use of products or through the disposal and combustion of waste.

Current testing does not take into account our multiple and cumulative exposures to EDCs and the fact that their effects cannot be considered in isolation. Their impacts on our health are being observed across our lifespan from conception in the womb through to old age. With EDCs, there are no safe levels and the report states that “thresholds” should not be assumed.

Diseases and disorders induced by exposure to EDCs during development in animal model and human studies include: Breast/prostate cancer, endometriosis, infertility, diabetes/metabolic syndrome, early puberty, obesity, susceptibility to infections, autoimmune disease, asthma, heart disease/hypertension, stroke, Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease, ADHD and learning disabilities.

As the endocrine system regulates all our bodily functions, EDCs can interfere with normal body functions in multiple ways including impacting our metabolism, fat storage, bone development and immune system and this suggests that..” all endocrine systems can and will be affected by EDCs”, and these effects may be passed on to future generations.

The WHO report says that “‘it is critical to move beyond the piecemeal, one chemical at a time, one disease at a time, one dose approach currently used by scientists studying animal models, humans or wildlife. Understanding the effects of the mixtures of chemicals to which humans and wildlife are exposed is increasingly important”. EDCs can operate at extremely low unobservable levels and in combination. The strength of attraction of an endocrine disruptor to a hormone doesn’t equate to its strength as a chemical. Its potency or strength to affect our hormone system is dependent on many factors.

The Alliance believes the implications for public health are enormous, and for the focus of our work, cancer risk.  Currently addressed lifestyle risk factors for cancer will alone not curtail rising incidences and deaths, which will continue to escalate unless affirmative action is taken on EDCs. Neglect of the environmental and occupational risk factors for cancer skews research on cancer causation and with EDCs implicated in obesity their potential to affect even so called lifestyle factors for cancer is obvious.

The Alliance calls for an effective strategy on EDCs from the EU parliament taking advantage of the opportunity in March with the vote on EDCs in parliament. There is the potential to make history by making sure these harmful chemicals are removed from our homes, workplaces and wider environment.

How will this affect strategies to prevention cancer?

The WHO/UNEP report follows hot on the heels of another paper published in advance in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), which is relevant in so far as the authors include the WHO Director of Public Health and the Environment.

That paper assesses “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.”

“A substantial proportion of all cancers is attributable to carcinogenic exposures in the environment and the workplace, and is influenced by activities in all economic and social sectors. Many of these exposures are involuntary but can be controlled or eliminated through enactment and enforcement of proactive strategies for primary prevention.’

It concludes: ‘Currently, the almost exclusive focus of cancer policies in most countries is on secondary prevention (ie. early detection), diagnosis and treatment. Too little resources are devoted to primary prevention, which aims to eliminate or control exposures to environmental and occupational carcinogens… The prevailing approach is socially unfair and often unsustainable, especially in low and middle income countries.’ It adds: ‘There is sufficient evidence that primary prevention is feasible and highly effective in reducing cancer incidence.’

While the Alliance welcomes the WHO/UNEP report, we look forward to seeing action in response to the report’s call for reducing the exposures to EDCs by a variety of measures. Initiatives such as introducing Toxics Use Reduction Acts, promoting green chemistry and substitution, and a precautionary approach in regulating EDCs could be immediate responses. Coupled with a coherent and effective EU EDC strategy on banning, phase out and eliminating human exposure to EDCs. We are particularly interested in how the cancer establishment will address the issue of EDCs in all strategies to preventing cancer.

When we consider the far reaching consequences of inaction on EDCs, the platitudes in relation to other global threats pale into insignificance. Some say the threat is even greater than that of climate change, given EDCs ability to affect fertility, foetal development, the brain and behaviour. We are changing the very landscape of the womb and adversely affecting the abilities of future generations. Leaving aside the financial costs of inaction on EDCs, the human cost is unthinkable, to not act now is to be complicit.

The Alliance for Cancer Prevention is a multi-stakeholder group which includes representatives from NGOs, environmental and occupational health organisations, trade unions, public health advocates and civil society groups.

T @Cancer_Alliance
Tel: 07960033687

Notes to editor:

  1. State of the Science for Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. Report can be downloaded here:
  2. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are chemicals which can affect our Endocrine System (the bodies messenger system) and other bodily functions, which co-ordinates reproduction, development, growth, mood, and what happens in our cells to help our bodies and organs function normally.
  3. Current risk factors for cancer include: tobacco, diet and obesity, infections, radiation (both ionizing and non-ionizing, up to 10%), stress, lack of physical activity, hereditary genes, physical agents, chemicals, and hormones.
  4. Environmental and occupational risk factors are potential risk factors from exposure to certain chemicals, substances, or particles (either occupational or environmental) and absorbed in utero (pre birth) or through breathing, touching, and eating, which contribute to a cancer outcome by nature of their carcinogenic, mutagenic or endocrine disrupting abilities.
  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. Dr. Theo Colborn’s letter to President Obama, watch it here.
  7. Toxic Use Reduction. Replacing toxic substances with safer alternatives or processes.
  8. Sign the petition to get EDCs out of consumer goods: here


USA: Government agency is dangerously close to business


small business jpeg

A US government agency intended to assist small businesses is instead operating as an unquestioning promoter of a deadly business lobby wishlist. A report from the independent Center for Effective Government says the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy is supposed to ensure that federal agencies evaluate the small business impacts of the rules they adopt. Instead it has been weighing in on issues including scientific assessments of the cancer risks of formaldehyde, styrene, and chromium.

But instead of scrutinising the evidence, it has just regurgitated industry briefings. The Centre says by the Office of Advocacy’s own admission, it lacks the scientific expertise to evaluate the merits of these scientific assessments. “We found that the Office of Advocacy’s comments on these assessments raised no issues of specific concern to small business and relied almost exclusively on talking points provided by trade associations dominated by big chemical companies.

Between 2005 and 2012, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and its members spent over $333 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies on, among other things, a protracted campaign to prevent government agencies from designating formaldehyde, styrene, and chromium as carcinogens.The Formaldehyde Council, Styrene Industry Research Council, and Chrome Coalition spent millions more.

These groups asked the Office of Advocacy for assistance, and the Office became their willing partner.” According to the Center: “We conclude that the Office of Advocacy’s decision to comment on scientific assessments of the cancer risks of certain chemicals constitutes a significant and unwarranted expansion of its role and reach beyond its statutory responsibilities. We recommend that Congress ask the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the Office of Advocacy and exert more rigorous oversight of its activities to ensure its work does not undermine the efforts of other federal agencies to fulfil the goals Congress has assigned them.” (by Rory O’Neill

 Center for Effective Government news release and report: Small businesses, public health, and scientific integrity: Whose interests does the Office of Advocacy at the Small Business Administration serve?

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 pre-menopausal 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 industry’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



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.