Pinking out on breast cancer

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 17, 2011

By Dr. Christopher Nagy

Why isn’t there more emphasis on prevention?
It’s obvious that we are in the middle of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), or what I often call the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. I say this because of the now abundantly available slew of pink products.
We are so awash in pink promotions, products and campaigns that one has to ask, is there anyone out there who is not aware of breast cancer? The pinking out of October has left me wondering, why is October not known as Breast Cancer Prevention Month? The answer to this question reveals a number of interesting facts that maybe the public isn’t supposed to know or question.
One of the main missions of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to increase awareness of the disease and to encourage early detection (mammograms) and treatment. BCAM began in 1985, and a major co-founder and sponsor of BCAM is AstraZeneca, manufacturer of the chemotherapy drug Tamoxifen. Tamoxifen has been one of the most widely prescribed and used breast cancer drugs. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month’s website is copyrighted to AstraZeneca. This fact may shed light on why the mission of BCAM is to promote early detection and treatment rather than to promote prevention or risk reduction.
An important detail frequently overlooked when focusing on early detection and treatment in the “Race for the Cure” is the fact that we often ignore one of the most important factors in dealing with breast cancer: prevention. With an epidemic disease such as breast cancer, step one, most importantly, should be reducing the risk of women getting the disease in the first place. Prevention precedes detection and treatment. Why do we continue to miss this point? If the only goal is a cure, then prevention will not be given the importance it deserves.
Detection and treatment are undeniably important, but the current message does not adequately address the very important role of prevention. If we fail to consider or believe that we have the power to take daily action to prevent or reduce the risk of breast cancer from developing, then we accept the role of victim, as if there is nothing we can do to protect ourselves. There are many choices we can make to live an anti-cancer lifestyle, with the goal being to help prevent the development of cancer in the first place. There are no guarantees that living the perfect lifestyle will definitely prevent the possibility of breast cancer developing, but being mindful of the choices we make can influence our chances.
If we continue to wait for the magic bullet cure that has been sought since the war on cancer was announced in 1971, we will continue to ignore the many research studies showing what we can do to help reduce our risk of developing cancer. The word cure implies that someone can live an unhealthy, toxic lifestyle that will likely result in disease and then just take a pill or a shot that will wash away many years of poor choices, returning that person to health. This is not the case.
The solidarity, unity and message present in working together for the cause of eradicating breast cancer has been hijacked by corporate interests and even by some of the cancer non-profits in the interest of maintaining the continued flow of profits/donations. Corporate intervention frequently leads to expectations of controlling the message of BCAM.
The Susan Komen foundation has filed or threatened more than 100 lawsuits against many smaller non-profit organizations that have in some cases unknowingly dared to use the term “for the cure” in their statements. Wouldn’t that money be better spent researching breast cancer prevention? Komen’s corporate partners can use that phrase freely, as long as they provide a large enough contribution. Really, are pink buckets of chicken for the cure (filled with hormone-laden meat and who knows what else) really the way to battle breast cancer? Why not add pink-ribboned cigarettes to the mix in the fight against cancer?
Pinkwashing is defined by the U.S. based group, Breast Cancer Action, as activities of companies and groups that position themselves as leaders in the struggle to eradicate breast cancer while engaging in practices that may be contributing to the rising rates of the disease. Pinkwashers include many of the cosmetic companies whose products contain substances that are identified as carcinogens. Though these companies sponsor events in the fight against breast cancer, behind closed doors, many have voted to reject the Compact for Safe Cosmetics Act, a pledge to remove hazardous chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives. It seems strange that these companies refuse to address the fact that their products contain ingredients linked to breast cancer, all the while presenting themselves as leaders in raising money for the cure.
Many of us know someone who has been affected by breast cancer. We all want to contribute where we can to prevent ourselves, one of our loved ones or even strangers from having to face the difficulties a diagnosis of breast cancer brings. When corporate organizations worm their way into people’s pockets by manipulating their emotions and their sense of humanity for corporate benefit, the road to the cure has taken a detour.
If women were informed and followed an anti-cancer lifestyle, the reduction in the number of cases of breast cancer could be significant, with many experts quoting up to a 40-50 percent reduction. The preventive path is more important than early detection (meaning, you already have cancer). Instruction in proper dietary habits, including anti-cancer foods, toxic chemical avoidance, boosting anti-cancer nutrients such as vitamin D and the benefits of physical activity and exercise should be paramount in the fight against breast cancer. Instead, we continue to promote the agenda of early detection, which in some studies has not made much of a difference in the final outcome.
Lip service is paid to cancer prevention and only a small fraction of the money raised in many campaigns is used to further study prevention, risk reduction and the effects of toxin exposure. As we continue to search for the cure, it is time someone stood up and said, “Hey, I don’t think a cure is coming anytime soon so we all better start thinking about what we can do to prevent the development of cancer in the first place.” Contributions to large non-profits should be followed with the question of how the money is going to be spent to achieve the cure. Don’t be pinkwashed into surrendering your talents, time and money to an organization if you are not made aware of how they fit into the fight or how they will allocate what you donate. Kissing cancer goodbye may just then be possible if we start to address some of the important issues other than what Breast Cancer Awareness Month promotes. Of course, the kiss should occur without the carcinogens in the lipstick that you use before you plant the kiss.
If you are interested in finding out more about what you can do to prevent or reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, please join me for a talk, Keeping A Breast – Ways to Prevent Breast Cancer at Simply Good Natural Foods, October 25th @ 6PM. Call 704-636-0889 to reserve a seat.

Dr. Christopher Nagy is an orthopaedic surgeon with Salisbury Orthopaedic Associates and the director of Your Personal Wellness Center ( He lives with his family of four females in Spencer.