Does The Komen Foundation’s Pink Ribbon Campaign Actually Help Fight Breast Cancer?

Critics say more than just “awareness” is needed to prevent the disease — and that many ribbon-branded products themselves contain carcinogens.
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    Susan G. Komen walkers geared up for the first day of the breast cancer awareness marathon Aug. 9, 2013. (Photo/Susan G. Komen® via Flickr)

    Susan G. Komen walkers geared up for the first day of the breast cancer awareness marathon Aug. 9, 2013. (Photo/Susan G. Komen® via Flickr)

     

    Last year, the fast-food chain KFC joined a national campaign to raise money and awareness by selling pink-branded buckets of fried chicken. This year, the White House was turned pink for breast cancer awareness month. The symbolic pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness can be seen everywhere, slapped onto products like lipstick or the butt of a Smith & Wesson gun. The marketing of the pink ribbon is hugely successful — but has it actually decreased breast cancer rates?

    According to American Cancer Society, one in eight women will be diagnosed with the disease in her lifetime, and 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women this year. Despite the ever-pervasive pink message and donations supporting breast cancer research, medical experts are pushing for a change, raising the issue of whether carcinogens in some household products should have a public warning — like cigarettes.

    Earlier this year, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) led a charge to address the hidden carcinogens in products. Armed with research for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), she tried to “beef up” the 2008 Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act with new reforms to the Safe Chemicals Act.

    Sen. Gillibrand told Mint Press News why the U.S. public needs protection: “Study after study has shown that the accumulation of persistent chemicals in all of our bodies could have serious health effects for millions of Americans.”

    She added, “I support legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act to ensure that the Federal government has a robust set of tools to determine whether the chemicals used in consumer products are safe, and regulate those that could pose a risk to human health and the environment.

    “We also need to continue to support and fund research into the potential effects that these chemicals could have on the development of breast cancer and other cancers.”

    A NIEHS federal advisory committee of leading breast cancer experts found that identifying and eliminating the environmental causes of breast cancer presents the greatest opportunity to prevent the disease. The research exposed links between exposure to toxic carcinogens and breast cancer. Carcinogens can be found in products that we use all the time, from cleaning products to shampoos; from furniture to shower curtains.

    On many experts’ warning list is the use endocrine-disrupting compounds, including bisphenol A (BPA), which can be found in some plastics, the lining of food cans and even in sales receipts. BPA is a hormone-disrupting chemical that mimics estrogen, the female sex hormone, and prolonged exposure to BPA may also interfere with thyroid hormones and can increase susceptibility to breast and prostate cancer.

    Lindsay Dahl of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families told Mint Press News, “The public have become increasingly more aware of the carcinogens in products. In fact, in the last five to six years our organization has grown and the message in regard to carcinogens causing breast cancer and other diseases is out there, but legislation is what we really need.”

    She added, “If you take BPA and the work we’ve done to highlight this toxic chemical — it has been a success story with hundreds of manufacturers labeling their products BPA free. But this isn’t enough, some manufacturers are using BPS [bisphenol S], which is just as harmful and not something to they feel they should label.

    “We need our legislators to reform the law. This year they reformed the Safe Chemical Act, but [those reforms] are not strong enough. The laws are fundamentally flawed. We want meaningful laws to protect mothers, to protect children, and where the law will impose severe penalties,” Dahl said.

    Changing the laws so that companies can comply with safe chemical regulations was a difficult battle for former Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), who along with Gillibrand was a leader in Congress on reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) before his death in June of this year. Both Senators worked to reform the TSCA and provide the Environmental Protection Agency with the authority to protect Americans from harmful chemicals. But new measures they introduced this year in the Safe Chemical Act still fall short of giving the public adequate protection, consumer safety advocates argue.

    Dahl said:

    “The law responsible for ensuring that chemicals are safe — the Toxic Substances Control Act — was passed in 1976 and has never been updated. The law is so weak that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has only been able to require testing on less than two percent of the more than 80,000 chemicals that have been on the market at some point since TSCA was adopted.”

    One of the biggest barriers that most breast cancer organizations, researchers and medical experts encounter is the TSCA.

    Sharma Rasanaygam, director of science at the Breast Cancer Fund, explains:

    “The problem starts with the TSCA act. In 1976 they allowed all products on the market at the time to pass without being tested – which means these products can still be in use now. The act was supposed to test new products coming on to market but without enforcement there are current 80,000 untested products on the market with no knowledge of carcinogens hidden in these products.

    “If we were to make changes, it would be to make sure the EPA tests all products before they’re allowed to be sold to the general public.”

    Protecting the U.S public from products with carcinogenic toxins should be of huge concern to  legislators, but unfortunately politics get in the way. As a result, the task falls to breast cancer groups — and not all are in agreement.

    “Think beyond the pink” is a message put out by the Breast Cancer Fund, highlighting its concern that the pink ribbon breast cancer awareness campaign doesn’t look at prevention.

    Critics of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the founder of the pink ribbon campaign, have pointed to the controversy surrounding the organization’s elimination of $680,000 in grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings — and the fact that the pink ribbon is used on products like that contain carcinogens themselves. Each year, corporate supermarket shelves bombard consumers with pink-ribbon products featuring “breast cancer awareness” messages. That raises billions of dollars in the name of breast cancer, but many of these same products may also be contain the very same cancer-causing agents other organizations are seeking to outlaw.

    As the breast cancer awareness campaign continues, critics are raising the question: wouldn’t it be wiser for the breast cancer awareness campaign to target companies and products that don’t give you cancer themselves?

     

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