A couple of weeks ago, we spent our hour exploring the Politics of Breast Cancer (you can find the audio further down the page, under the heading ‘Think Pink’. The main question driving the episode is why environmental and occupational causes of breast cancer are rarely brought up in the mainstream activism around cancer. According to David Christiani “…the most valuable approaches to reducing cancer morbidity and mortality lie in primary prevention – avoiding the introduction of carcinogenic agents into the environment and eliminating exposure to carcinogenic agents that are already there” (New England Journal of Medicine, 2011). But stopping or reducing occupational exposures to carcinogens and eliminating toxins from the air, water and products around us is fundamentally a social justice issue. Spending money on employee’s safety and making products safer cuts into corporate profits.
We start off with an interview with Joy, a breast cancer “survivor” (although she finds the term problematic for reasons she discusses). Joy did not have the typical risk factors people associate with breast cancer. She had no family history, exercised regularly and ate well. So why did she get cancer? Joy discusses why she would like to see more of a focus on the environmental causes of breast cancer.
Next we interview Karuna Jaggar, the executive director of Breast Cancer Action (http://bcaction.org/). Breast Cancer Action is a national organization in the United States that calls for the elimination of environmental toxins that cause cancer and accountability for the corporate-driven pink ribbon campaign in their “Think Before You Pink” campaign. Karuna discusses how the pink ribbon is not regulated and criticizes corporate “pink washing” where a company tries to divert attention from their toxic products by branding them with the pink ribbon. Other questions she encourages people to inquire about are how much money actually goes to breast cancer. Overall, we conclude that in order to truly fight the breast cancer epidemic, stronger environmental laws and regulations are urgently needed.
In case you’re interested, here’s an organization with information about everyday products that cause cancer http://www.preventcancer.com/. Although individual consumer choice alone is inadequate and is often unfeasible, it’s nice that some researchers and community members are trying to provide us with some evidence-based information about how to protect ourselves.