Snipping Pink Sentimentality: Persisting on the Whys of Breast Cancer

By Eleanor J. Bader, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine

Three years ago, The International Journal of Chemistry published an article positing Biphenyl-A, or BPA, as a primary culprit in the breast cancer epidemic of the past 50 years. The report sounded an alarm because BPA has not only been used to make plastic and epoxy resins, but has become embedded in American life, found in everything from food packaging to children’s sippy cups to flame retardants. Most frightening, more than eight billion pounds of the 54-year-old product enters the marketplace each year.

While The Journal study caused a flurry of attention among policy makers, the findings did not come as a surprise to Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco based activist organization that works to publicize -- and organizes to stop – the environmental causes of breast cancer. Elenore Pred, Breast Cancer Action’s founder, had an ambitious goal when she started the group in 1990: She wanted people to recognize breast cancer as a public health emergency rather than as a personal crisis.

It’s not that Breast Cancer Action minimizes the upheaval caused by a breast cancer diagnosis. Far from it. Instead, the group delves into the whys, looking into every possible cause for breast cancer’s ubiquity, from proven causal links like family history, tobacco usage, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle, to less publicized -- and in some circles less agreed upon -- illness triggers, including chemicals found in the foods we eat and products we use.

At its core, says Communications Manager Angela Wall, Breast Cancer Action advocates "precautionary principles." That is, if there is evidence that something is bad for human health, Breast Cancer Action believes, quite simply, that it should not be used. "Once we know something is hurting us, how much evidence do we need before we stop putting it into our bodies?" she asks.

"Milking Cancer" Causes A Stir

Take the Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, r-BGH, a genetically engineered chemical compound, also known as Posilac, that was developed by Monsanto and approved by the FDA in 1993. While r-BGH increases milk production by approximately 10 percent, it also causes cows to develop health problems including mastitis and bacterial infections. Worse, milk from r-BGH-treated cows contains hormones that medical experts such as Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, Chair of the Cancer Prevention Coalition and author of Got [genetically engineered] Milk?, believe increase the risk not only of breast cancer, but of colon, lung, and prostate cancers.

Breast Cancer Action responded to the researchers’ findings by creating the Milking Cancer campaign in 2009. Unlike organizations that try to stop individual dairies from using r-BGH, BCA has gone to the source, targeting pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, the sole worldwide manufacturer of r-BGH. "We feel that the way to stop cancer is to stop making things that cause it," Wall says. "The hypocrisy here is obvious. Eli Lilly -- which purchased Monsanto’s Posilac Division in 2008 for $300 million--sells drugs to treat cancer while also producing a product that is a known carcinogen. We’ve already collected more than 6,000 signatures on a petition asking Lilly to stop making r-BGH and there’s been a groundswell of support at the grassroots level to end its production. But we know that winning this fight is going to require a long, hard organizing effort."

Continue reading here.

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