It's that pink time of year again, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But when virtually every American has been touched by the disease, who among us is not aware of breast cancer? What we need is Breast Cancer PREVENTION Month, and a focus on identifying and eliminating the preventable causes of the disease so fewer people ever have to receive that life-changing diagnosis. What we need is a national breast cancer prevention plan.
We know that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and that no more than 1 in 10 of them has a genetic history of the disease. We know that breast cancer rates have increased dramatically since the 1930s, when the first reliable cancer incidence data were established, and that, strikingly, the increase parallels the proliferation of synthetic chemicals. Today, approximately 85,000 synthetic chemicals are registered for use in the United States, more than 90 percent of which have never been tested for their effects on human health.
A new report from the Breast Cancer Fund, State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment, sheds light on the environmental causes of breast cancer, and on what public policies are needed to reduce breast cancer risk. The report catalogues the growing evidence linking breast cancer to, among other factors, synthetic hormones in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and meat; pesticides in food; solvents in household cleaning products; BPA in food containers; flame retardants in furniture; and radiation from medical treatments.
This report comes just months after the President's Cancer Panel's report, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, whose lead authors, Margaret Kripke, Ph.D., and LaSalle Leffall, Jr., M.D., found that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated. The report leveled a hefty critique of failed regulation, undue industry influence, and inadequate research and funding. It also found that the government has been locked in a cancer-fighting paradigm that has failed to look at the complexity of cancer causation and, in so doing, has missed the opportunity to create a national campaign for cancer prevention.
We've arrived at a critical juncture: The growing scientific evidence makes us realize the woeful shortcomings of the old "better living through chemistry" paradigm. We can no longer claim not to understand the impact of toxic chemicals and radiation on our health. We have enough evidence to act to create a national breast cancer prevention plan. The President and Congress have the opportunity right now to kickstart this plan by:
1. Implementing the President's Cancer Panel's recommendations to create a new national cancer prevention strategy. Place the burden on chemical companies to show their chemicals are safe; ensure stronger federal regulation of chemicals and better coordination between agencies that manage chemicals in consumer products, workplaces and the environment; and increase funding for research into the environmental links to cancer.
2. Eliminating toxic bisphenol A (BPA) from food and beverage containers. BPA is a synthetic estrogen linked to breast cancer and other serious health problems that is used in some plastic baby bottles and water bottles, as well as the epoxy-resin lining of food and infant formula cans. Safer alternatives exist, so there is no excuse to continue to expose people to this toxic chemical.
3. Expanding the FDA's authority to ensure that cosmetics are safe. We need government oversight to address the safety of personal care products, which are currently unregulated and can contain chemicals linked to cancer and other health concerns.
4. Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Studies by the National Academy of Sciences, U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Environmental Protection Agency, among others, have concluded that TSCA does not adequately help the public, industry or government assess the hazards of chemicals in commerce or control those of greatest concern.
Everyone has a story of being affected by breast cancer. These are stories of courage and suffering. Let's work toward a time when there are fewer of such stories to tell. Let's commit as a nation to eliminating the environmental and other preventable causes of breast cancer. We simply can't afford not to.
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