Why BCAction will never underestimate environmental toxins

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Executive Director Karuna Jaggar

By Karuna Jaggar, Breast Cancer Action Executive Director

The American Cancer Society took issue with parts of our last post. I wanted to let you know how I responded–my thoughts are below. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


  1. Posted September 15, 2011 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Hi Karuna ~

    Your letter to the ACS is well done. I appreciate you taking a stand because so few nonprofits do. The ACS can sometimes be intimidating because they have many powerful people on their Board of Directors that represent drug and chemical companies, so naturally there is a conflict of interest. The ACS doesn’t want to insult their major funding sources. I am the founder of Children Against Cancer along with my son, and we were astonished at how much the environmental chemicals cause cancer in children and breast cancer in young adults now. Keep up the good work!
    ~ Caroline Olson, Phoenix, Arizona

  2. Posted September 15, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I think you answered well. I must say that the very next day, after publication of the President’s Cancer Panel Report, the American Cancer Society pooh-poohed its conclusions, and lost me forever as a volunteer.

    I applaud BCA for speaking out on these issues.

  3. Posted September 18, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    In full agreement. It’s a travesty how environmental toxins are being downplayed when they are such a key component. Fight the good fight and thank you!

  4. Posted September 23, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    While there is a total focus on cancer we are missing the point of what we can do to not get it in the first place.
    In Australia I have recently stopped my business of offering a non-invasive and comfortable form of breast imaging looking at the electrical properties of breast tissue.
    i am currently under investigation by the “consumer protection” and anti-competition agency who claim that we may be seen as an equivalent or alternative to mammography. Evidently women should only have a mammogram (even though a good portion of the female population are excluded from screening mammograms).
    i have had amazing support from my database who are outraged that their right to choose how they manage their breast health is being taken away from them.
    Oh, the agency has said they are targetting all other companies in Australia offering new commercially available technologies for breast imaging.

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