By Karuna Jaggar, Breast Cancer Action Executive Director
We have no dispute about the known health benefits of diet and exercise on reducing one’s risk for breast cancer; however, I have to take issue with your downplaying of the connection between exposure to environmental toxins and increased risk of breast cancer on two levels.
- Even those of us with access to an excellent pesticide and hormone-free diet and robust exercise plans are involuntarily exposed to a myriad of chemicals in our environment that are known or suspected carcinogens or endocrine disruptors that put women at risk for breast cancer. These chemicals are found in our everyday environments: methylparabens in cosmetics and personal care products and BPA in baby bottles, food container linings, and even sales receipts to name just a few ways they surround us. And this isn’t simply Breast Cancer Action’s point of view. The President’s Cancer Panel clearly acknowledged in 2010 that the most direct way to prevent cancer is to stop putting cancer-causing agents into our indoor and outdoor environments in the first place.
- By only focusing on the benefits of individual diet and exercise, we lose sight of the social justice issues that limits access to affordable healthy food and regular exercise for many in our society. This last point is significant because unless we increase the focus of our attention around health inequities we fail to address the health of a growing segment of our population: namely underserved women of color.
We strongly feel the best approaches are a combination of individual AND societal changes so that EVERYONE has the option of limiting their risk of getting breast cancer. And although you question our use of the word epidemic, I’d say that after billions of dollars over the years has been raised to quell the tide of breast cancer with the result being a rising lifetime incidence from 1 in 20 in 1960 to 1 in 8 today, that’s an epidemic we best address. By Komen and ACS keeping to just the narrow actions of individuals we feel you’re only addressing a part of the picture. While women are dying, we need a call for action that takes into account the whole picture of what we need to do to reduce breast cancer incidence – and it needs a lot more than a yearly mammography, a piece of fruit and going for a run.