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Susan G. Komen's Other Gaffe

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After Susan G. Komen for the Cure came under a firestorm of criticism for cutting off hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to Planned Parenthood for administering breast exams to low-income women, Komen announced that it is reversing its position and will reinstate the existing grants. If only Planned Parenthood were in a position to send Komen a pink slip and refuse its money altogether.

Komen does women a disservice by continuing to channel funds into animal tests, while other cancer charities have moved on from such old-fashioned abominations or never engaged in them to begin with. From a purely human, female perspective, the fact is that animal experiments often delay effective treatments. Take Taxol, an important breast cancer drug, for example: It was shelved for years because animal tests indicated that it was ineffective. Later, after animal tests were dropped in favor of more accurate tests on actual human cancer cells, Taxol was found to be one of the most effective cancer treatments available. 

"Animals don't reflect the reality of cancer in humans," says Fran Visco, a breast cancer survivor and founder of the advocacy group National Breast Cancer Coalition. "We cure cancer in animals all the time, but not in people."

Animals are often used not because they make good science but, in the words of one researcher, "because they are cheap, easy to handle and few people care what you do to them." In one recent study funded by the Komen foundation, mice had tumor cells injected into their brains. When the animals developed brain tumors, they were killed, and the tumor tissues were implanted into other mice who had their necks broken and their brains cut out and dissected. Does anyone out there know of any women who contracted cancer by having it injected into their brains?

In other breast cancer experiments, pregnant rats were forced to breathe cigarette smoke in an effort to determine how it affected the development of breast cancer in their offspring. Rats were forced to live in solitary confinement, causing them to become withdrawn and depressed as any social mammal large or small is apt to do, in order to observe how stress influences breast cancer development. Mice were injected with cancer cells so they grew huge tumors. Some mice were "treated" with radiation and infected with modified herpes. Some were stuck in the eye with a needle, which causes the blood vessels to rupture, so that experimenters could collect their blood. They were killed when their tumors reached a certain size.

Any physiologist or veterinarian will admit that there is a world of difference between humans and other animals in metabolism, biochemistry, physiology, and genetic makeup, making it clear that the results of experiments on mice often cannot be accurately extrapolated to our own species. PETA scientists recently reviewed more than 30 years of scientific literature, including more than 500 rodent cancer studies, to assess the scientific validity of those studies according to current, internationally accepted criteria. They found that the vast majority of rodent cancer studies are inadequate or have produced ambiguous, unusable results. Such studies produce consistent and reproducible results only 57 percent of the time, about the same odds as flipping a coin.  

Meanwhile, as we spend billions of dollars to cure cancer in mice, we are missing opportunities that could help real women in the real world -- women like New Yorker Elaine Sloane, one of many breast cancer survivors who does not want any animals hurt and killed in her name.

She supports programs that make breast cancer treatment more accessible to low-income women, educate consumers about the role that diet plays in cancer prevention, match scientists with women volunteers who are willing to participate in breast cancer research, and develop new technologies that could truly benefit sick patients, like a 3-dimensional model of human breast cancer recently developed by British scientists, made by growing cells from normal and cancerous breast tissue.

Fortunately, many cancer charities are investing in state-of-the-art, highly effective non-animal research methods. Before Komen reneged on its renege, PETA suggested to Planned Parenthood that it team up with charities like the American Breast Cancer Foundation, the Breast Cancer Fund, BreastCancer.org, the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation and the Keep A Breast Foundation, all of which fund preventive care and/or reliable research methods but never fund cruel and wasteful animal experiments. More humane charities that are truly trying to save lives--both animals' and people's -- can be found at HumaneSeal.org.

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