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Sen. Dianne Feinstein

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Breast Cancer Awareness Should Be a Year-Round Event

Posted: 10/27/11 11:59 AM ET

Every 3 minutes -- about the time it takes you to listen to your favorite song -- someone is diagnosed with breast cancer. With 1 in 8 women now expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer, this disease has touched all of us in some way.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this year has been more successful than ever. Pink ribbons popped up everywhere, from Sunday NFL games to taxi cabs in Los Angeles to yogurt in your supermarket.

But as October comes to a close, the ribbons are starting to disappear and the spotlight is beginning to dim.

Unfortunately, breast cancer isn't a one-month-a-year disease.

I say it's high time we move beyond October and make breast cancer awareness an everyday goal.

Early detection, treatment and cure are all extremely important. I also believe we need to closely question why so many women are being diagnosed with this disease. There are environmental links to many types of cancer, and pinning those links down should be a primary goal.

Considering how many women are diagnosed each year with breast cancer, I am very concerned that additives and chemicals in everyday products -- and indeed in the environment around us -- may be contributing factors.

I have long been concerned with the links between chemicals and harmful health effects and have been a vocal advocate for legislation to remove harmful chemicals.

Mounting scientific evidence links exposure to everyday chemicals -- in our food, our products, our air and our water -- to breast cancer. The President's Cancer Panel released a report in 2010 that highlighted how little we know about environmental links to cancer and the need for more research.

I could not agree more with the report's recommendation that "a precautionary, prevention-oriented approach should replace current reactionary approaches to environmental contaminants."

Similarly, the Breast Cancer Fund's 2010 report, the State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment, linked breast cancer to synthetic hormones in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and meat, pesticides in food, solvents in household cleaning products; bisphenol A (BPA) in food containers and flame retardants in furniture, to name a few.

In our daily lives, we can take steps to reduce exposure to some chemicals, such as buying BPA-free products. But we need more than personal action; we need policies that ensure the public is protected. And we need to understand the chemicals we interact with every day and what they are doing to our bodies.

We've managed to make some progress, including my legislation to ban phthalates in children's toys. Phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been linked to breast cancer. I am still working to get BPA -- another chemical linked to breast cancer -- out of children's feeding products.

But there is one piece of legislation I am most proud of that awaits action. Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and I are working together to pass a bill to extend authorization of the Breast Cancer Research Stamp for four years, through 2015.

The stamp was created in 1998 after women and family members testified before Congress, offering their stories of how breast cancer has affected their lives.

With their help, we were able to pass legislation to create the first "semipostal" in United States history, a postage stamp that does more than pay for postage. To date, the stamp has raised more than $73 million to fund research initiatives that have resulted in breakthroughs in the fight against breast cancer.

Legislation to keep the stamp alive was recently approved by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which handles postage issues. Its next step is consideration before the full Senate.

What I have learned over the years, as breast cancer has claimed more and more lives, is that the message of prevention is more important now than ever before.

Thanks to prevention efforts and breakthroughs in cancer research, many more people are becoming cancer survivors rather than breast cancer victims.

I hope that the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month doesn't end the attention this deadly disease deserves, but instead turns into momentum that transforms awareness to action. Please join me in working to finally put an end to breast cancer.

Dianne Feinstein represents California in the U.S. Senate.