Breast cancer is not one disease, but involves different breast cancer subtypes that result from a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors. In fact, there is a strong body of evidence suggesting a balance among protective factors, susceptibility, exposures over time, genetic changes resulting from exposures, disease heterogeneity, and differing mechanisms of action brought upon by chemical compounds that, together, set the conditions for cancer to develop or not. What, among these factors, is most likely to be modifiable? Protective factors and exposures. However, the majority of breast cancer cases occur in women with no family history of the disease and none of the known risk factors.
The Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee (IBCERCC) released a report in February (2013) stating that, the only way to reduce the human toll of breast cancer is to prevent it, and breast cancer rates change in response to certain environmental factors. Thus, understanding how the timing, combination, accumulation, and reduction or elimination of exposures affects causation must be the focus of breast cancer prevention research. Unfortunately, the report also says that finding ways to “identify and influence environmental causes of the disease has proven extremely challenging and has not been a priority.”
So let me get this straight. The only way to reduce the breast cancer burden is to stop the disease before it starts. Environmental factors are keys to prevention. But identifying and influencing environmental causes is not only challenging, it has not been a priority.
If this is true, and the body of evidence suggests that it is, why aren’t people outraged and taking action? Maybe it’s because the majority of breast cancer “awareness” campaigns, those that encourage people to feel good, raise money, wear pink, check their breasts, and get mammograms, too often create a profitable smokescreen that not only confuses what we know about breast cancer, but does so while masking conflicts of interests and inconvenient truths about causation as well as detection, recurrence, death, and the collateral damage of treatment. Luckily, there are some who are willing to move beyond awareness to get at the heart of this matter.
Beyond The Pink
The Breast Cancer Fund (BCF) has dared to raise awareness of environmental links to breast cancer, is regarded as a go-to source for information about cancer and the environment, and is committed to calling out a particularly vile brand of pinkwashing– companies involved in breast cancer awareness while selling products with known environmental toxins.
This year, BCF researched the products of one of the largest cosmetics manufacturers and distributors, Revlon, and found some frightening ingredients:
- Butylated compounds (BHA, BHT) Found in hair dyes and lip gloss; linked to cancer
- Quaternium-15 and other formaldehyde-releasing chemicals Found in mascaras, pressed powders and eyeliner; linked to cancer
- Parabens Found in eyeliners and hair dyes; an endocrine disruptor linked to cancer
- Octinoxate Found in foundation makeup; an endocrine disruptor linked to thyroid disorders
- Resorcinol Found in hair dye; an endocrine disruptor and allergen
- p-Phenylenediamine Found in hair dye; a respiratory toxicant
- Carbon black Found in eyeliners; linked to cancer
A report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program lists several of these ingredients as human carcinogens, reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens, endocrine disrupting compounds, or neurotoxins. With ingredients like these, Revlon’s “Dare to be Revlon” campaign is a dare all right. Dare to expose yourself to a carcinogenic chemical bath and hope for the best.
What’s more, Revlon advertises that it cares about women and cancer. The Revlon Cares campaign says, “your lips can save lives.” The byline;
“Use them to talk with the women you love about cancer. Talking creates awareness. Awareness brings about early detection. Early detection saves lives.”
In other words, keep spreading simple messages about detection (despite the fact that early detection is a misnomer for many breast cancers) and, while you’re talking about mammograms, don’t even think about what’s in our products. It’s a classic case of pinkwashed misinformation masquerading as awareness.
Breast Cancer Fund has a petition to Revlon CEO David Kennedy and Revlon shareholder billionaire Ronald Perelman telling them that if Revlon “really cares about cancer—and if it dares to take credit for helping women with cancer—it’s time to come clean and remove toxic chemicals from its products.” I couldn’t agree more. Identifying and influencing environmental causes may be challenging, but once they are identified shouldn’t they be taken out of circulation? For the sake of prevention? Isn’t this a priority?
Sign the Breast Cancer Fund petition. Send a message. Make prevention a priority.
And if you haven’t done so already, team up with one of BCF’s partners, Breast Cancer Action, to press for chemical reform and take the burden off of consumers to find and purchase “safer” products.