On this last day of breast cancer awareness month, know this:

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.

ibcercc_report_coverThe 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

beyond-the-pink250x250The 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.

Does Revlon Care?

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.” 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.

toxic-time-is-up-logo_-cropped-300x234And 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.

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2 comments to On this last day of breast cancer awareness month, know this:

  • Connie Clontz

    While I whole heartedly agree that environmental factors can play a causal role in the development of cancers (not just BC), it is a hugely complex arena. To select cosmetics and in fact a particular company is overly simplistic knee jerk response to a very difficult problem. We are exposed to HUGE numbers of chemicals over our lifetimes thru a variety of avenues….we breathe them in, we have skin contact, etc. How exactly would you go about setting up studies to isolate the various chemicals, the delivery system, the amount, etc? No to mention individual chemicals might be just fine on their own but causal in combination with something else! Further, we are NOT MICE! Many products, drugs, whatever that produce symptoms or cures in mice do NOT carry over to humans. Yeah, I get it that here is a company supporting BC cure that should clean up their act first. But the problem with cancer treatment today is relatively simplistic treatments applied to a very complex beast.

  • Thank you for your comment, Connie. Breast cancer is indeed complex, as are environmental interactions and the research to study them. A 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), Breast Cancer and the Environment: A Life Course Approach, examines the existing literature about breast cancer risk posed by various environmental factors, highlights actions that offer potential to reduce risk, and recommends key areas for future research. The report, sponsored by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, was released on December 7th with a press release and report briefing. The findings were then presented formally in a plenary session at the 2011 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. The U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) has identified substances and exposures that are known or suspected to cause cancer, including: naturally occurring exposures (ultraviolet light, radon gas, infectious agents, etc.); medical treatments (chemotherapy, radiation, immune system-suppressing drugs, etc.); workplace exposures; household exposures; pollution; and lifestyle factors. The Strategy and Implementation Plan for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) states that, “The environment (defined in its broadest sense to include lifestyle, nutrition and occupation, in addition to physical, chemical and biological factors), plays a role in the overwhelming majority of cancers and consequently, at least in principle, the majority can be prevented. However, despite advances in identifying a number of major human carcinogens there remain a significant proportion of cancers for which the etiology is unclear.” BCF promotes a precautionary principle and using the knowledge we do have on environmental links, which I agree is a good idea. — gs

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* GAYLE IN THE MEDIA *

"Seeing clearly through the pink haze" Toronto Sun

*Sad face*: Being happy does not help you live longer" New Scientist

How should we address breast cancer when norms continually change? The Guardian

Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients Broadly

Backlash against “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness campaigns BMJ

Breast Cancer to Rise 50 Percent by 2030? Hey, Not So Fast! Health News Review

Breast Cancer: The Flaws in the Cause iafrica.com

How to Make the Biggest Impact With Your Breast Cancer Donations Money

The Very Pink, Very Controversial Business of Breast Cancer Awareness Racked

NFL, Pink Ribbons Not Enough to Win over Women CNN

3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Chronicle of Philanthropy

The problem with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Women's Health Magazine

Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer The Nib

A Year After Bombings, Some Say 'Boston Strong' Has Gone Overboard NPR, All Things Considered

Canadian Mammogram Study KCRW, NPR Affiliate

Time to Debunk the Mammography Myth CNN

Breast Cancer: Awareness, Activism & Pinkwashing NPR Charlotte

Buying Pink Al Jazeera's The Stream Watch »

The Pink Backlash Orlando Sentinel

Why Jolie's Test Costs So Much CNN

Preventative Mastectomies: Disease and Deception BlogTalkRadio

Angelina Jolie and the 'Breast Cancer Gene' KCRW

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer The New York Times Magazine.

The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon Campaign Sisters Talk Radio

WISH Interview Women's International Summit for Health

Making Cancer About The Patient, Not The Body Part CBS Pittsburgh

Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger many patients USA Today

The perils of pink The Daily

Komen pink campaign creates breast-cancer blues for some Dallas Morning News

A yellow flag for the NFL's pink New York Daily

Gayle Sulik named #7 in SharecareNow’s Top 10 Online Influencers in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer cancer causes so easily derailed Philly Inquirer

Komen Charity Under Microscope for Funding, Science Reuters

The Fight Against Cancer - And Abortion? Salon.com

Susan G. Komen For the Cure defunds Planned Parenthood. In Deep with Angie Coiro

Amid Breast Cancer Month, Is there Pink Fatigue? NPR's All Things Considered

How is Breast Cancer Culture Undermining Women's Health? America’s Radio News Network

Pink Ribbon Culture and Breast Cancer The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Big Business of Breast Cancer
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Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Crowd Out Other Diseases? Slate

Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red The Sacramento Bee

Get Your Pink Off Ottawa Citizen

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