The mammogram myth and the pinkwashing of America


Part One: The Diagnosis


ON THE DAY of my first mammogram, I walked through the sliding glass doors of the gleaming new hospital and fought the urge to turn right back around. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something wrong about this rite of passage. Nevertheless, I navigated a series of carpet-lined hallways to the Women’s Imaging Center and gave my name to the receptionist behind the glass. With an air of indifference, she led me to a small, windowless room, directed me to change into a johnny, and told me to wait for the mammography tech, Gert, to come fetch me. On the table to my right, beside a lacy pink photo album containing snapshots of flowers, lay Be a Survivor: Your Guide to Breast Cancer Treatment. I was forty-one years old, my nurse practitioner had urged me in for a baseline, and there I sat, complying.

It wasn’t too long before Gert, a no-nonsense woman in blue scrubs, rescued me from the antechamber and led me down the hall to the mammogram room. As she looked over my chart, I confronted the machine: a big, robotic contraption with metal arms bearing various sets of glass plates that I knew would be used to squeeze my breasts flat. A little Teddy Bear in a pink shirt with hearts on it perched on the left side of the machine. On the right side was a picture of a cherubic, chubby-faced child painted on what looked like it might have been a small fancy box for Valentine chocolates.

I had not worn deodorant, per instructions, and even though I had bathed just two hours earlier, a faint odor of me wafted up when I slipped off the right sleeve of my johnny. Gert grabbed onto my right breast, positioned it on the plate, and stepped on the pedal to lower the clamp down onto my breast. She said, “Compression is your friend.” I tried to think of compression as my friend. But in truth, I felt alienated from my body. I gazed into the distance and waited for it to be over. “Don’t move,” said Gert, and I held my breath while she slipped behind the clear plastic partition and pushed the button.

Don’t move? Where would I be going with my breast tightly clamped between two glass plates?

SOME OF MY MISGIVINGS about that mammogram can be attributed to a 2004 article I had read in The New Yorker. In “The Picture Problem,” Malcolm Gladwell reports on the low efficacy of mammograms and the fallibility of the radiologists who read them. Researchers in one study, for example, found a broad spectrum of accuracy when they asked ten board-certified radiologists to analyze 150 mammograms. One radiologist caught 85 percent of the cancers on first look; another, just 37 percent. Of course, the downside of consulting the high-scoring radiologist is that he or she also recommended additional tests — biopsies, ultrasounds, or more mammograms — on 64 percent of the women who didn’t have any cancer at all.

The other problem with mammograms, according to Gladwell, is that they generally catch slow-growing tumors. Some of these tumors are so slow growing that they will never make “cause of death” on a death certificate. The tumors more likely to threaten a woman’s life are the fast-growing ones that emerge between mammograms. In a study of 429 breast cancers diagnosed over a period of five years, 279 showed up in mammograms and 150 did not, either because they were hidden in dense tissue or because they were fast-growing tumors that didn’t exist at the time of the last mammogram. According to a 2003 paper that compiled eight different studies, mammography misses 10 to 30 percent of all breast cancers.

Gladwell notes, too, that mammograms identify substantial numbers of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) tumors, most of which are not likely to metastasize. DCIS tumors appear inside the ducts that carry milk to the nipple. In one study, almost 40 percent of women in their forties who had died of other causes were found to carry DCIS or some other cancer in their breasts. Gladwell points out that since breast cancer is responsible for less than 4 percent of female deaths, most of the women in this study, even if they had lived longer, would have died of causes other than those tumors. The problem is that doctors can’t tell from looking at a mammogram whether a given DCIS tumor will metastasize, or whether it will be one of the majority of lesions that never prove to be life threatening. So in 35 percent of cases doctors perform a lumpectomy with radiation, and in another 30 percent they perform a mastectomy. About fifty thousand new cases of DCIS are diagnosed each year in the U.S. Before mammograms, the diagnosis was virtually unknown.

Three years after Gladwell’s essay appeared, I happened upon another mammogram article, this one citing a 2000 study by Peter C. Gøtzsche, MD, director of the Nordic Cochrane Center, an esteemed independent research and information center that provides healthcare analyses worldwide. In his review of all eight randomized mammography trials that had been conducted at that time, Gøtzsche found that the four trials judged to be of poorest scientific quality were also the ones whose data made the strongest case for mammography. The two studies found to have the highest scientific rigor showed no significant reduction in breast cancer mortality resulting from mammogram screenings.

Gøtzsche’s overall finding, based on all eight studies, including those of poor quality, was a breast cancer mortality risk reduction of just 0.05 percent for all women submitting to annual or semiannual mammograms. This is not a typo. This is point-zero-five percent. Meanwhile, according to Gøtzsche, mammography also led to overdiagnosis and overtreatment, resulting in a risk increase in 0.5 percent of cases. “This means for every 2,000 women invited for screening throughout 10 years, one will have her life prolonged,” said Gøtzsche. “In addition, 10 healthy women will be diagnosed as breast cancer patients and will be treated as such, unnecessarily.” That means undergoing any combination of treatments, from radiation and chemotherapy to lumpectomy or mastectomy — all to treat a tumor that would never have metastasized or else would have disappeared on its own. Studies have shown that somewhere between 25 and 52 percent of all breast cancers detected by mammography would have disappeared spontaneously if simply left alone.

Because breast cancer survival rates have increased significantly in recent years due to more effective treatment, Gøtzsche now contends that mammography screening no longer reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer at all.

AS A WOMAN in her early forties, I had come to think of my body as an ecosystem, and was determined to exert as much control as I could over what I inhaled, ingested, and submitted to medically. I resisted that mammogram because everything I’d read indicated that I was more likely to be overdiagnosed than I was to have my life saved by early detection. It didn’t occur to me to think at all about the radiation. But it should have. Americans are now exposed to seven times more radiation than they were in 1980. And scientists agree there is no such thing as a safe dose.

The National Center for Environmental Health, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), categorizes ionizing radiation — the kind emitted during mammograms (as well as other X-rays and CT scans) — as an environmental hazard. According to the Breast Cancer Fund’s report State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment, exposure to ionizing radiation is the “best- and longest-established environmental cause of human breast cancer.” Simply put, this means that the very test meant to save women from the ravages of breast cancer may over time actually increase their risk of the disease. Ionizing radiation promotes the DNA damage that causes cancer stem cells to form. It also triggers mutation of the p53 suppressor gene — known as the “guardian angel gene” — preventing it from doing its job, which is to suppress tumors by thwarting genome mutation. In essence, ionizing radiation, just like any other pollutant, upsets the delicate balance of the human body.

Each mammogram typically exposes a woman to 0.1 to 0.2 radiation absorbed doses, or rads. Since 1972, the National Academy of Sciences has maintained that each rad of exposure increases the overall risk of breast cancer by 1 percent. Forty mammograms add up to a total of four to eight rads in a woman’s lifetime, which translates to an increased risk of 4 to 8 percent. Several recent studies indicate, however, that the mutational risk of low-dose radiation, such as the kind used in mammograms, is actually two to six times higher than previously thought.

Damage from radiation is cumulative, and can amplify the effects of other carcinogens. Because breast tissue, like fetal tissue, is extremely sensitive to radiation, even small doses are harmful. And because younger women’s DNA is more easily damaged by radiation, the younger a woman is when her breasts are first exposed, the higher the risks.

And at least once in all those years of mammograms, the patient is likely to get a call-back. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that out of ten mammograms, a woman has a 50 percent chance of at least one false positive. That means another mammogram, and probably also an ultrasound. And maybe even a biopsy — a sometimes painful procedure whereby some or all of a suspicious breast growth is either cut out or suctioned out through a needle to be evaluated by a pathologist. Three quarters of all biopsies ordered by concerned radiologists come up benign.

For years, the U.S. government, along with the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the American College of Radiology, advocated annual to biennial mammograms for women starting at age forty. But then the research came in, and people like Gladwell started sounding the alarms. In 2009, the United States Preventive Services Task Force — a panel of experts in evidence-based medicine — changed the guidelines to recommend that women start mammogram screening at age fifty and get a mammogram every two years thereafter up to the age of seventy-four, thereby cutting radiation exposure by about two-thirds, and the risk of overdiagnosis nearly in half. (These new guidelines do not apply to women with increased risk for breast cancer due to a gene mutation. However, some research indicates that that very mutation causes its carriers to be even more vulnerable to radiation-triggered cancer than the general population.)

The Task Force report, published in the esteemed Annals of Internal Medicine, concludes that “the decision to start regular, biennial screening mammography before the age of 50 years should be an individual one and take into account patient context, including the patient’s values regarding specific benefits and harms.”

The new guidelines provoked a furor of confusion. It didn’t make sense to people that less screening could be equally effective. People suspected the U.S. government of putting economics ahead of women’s health. Women in their forties came out of the woodwork to tell reporters about how their lives were saved by mammograms.

Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society (ACS), responded to the Task Force report with a confession: “I’m admitting that American medicine has overpromised when it comes to screening. The advantages to screening have been exaggerated.” Nonetheless, the ACS maintained its stance that mammograms should begin at forty.

In an interview with Terry Gross on National Public Radio, Dr. Marisa Weiss, a breast cancer survivor, breast oncologist, and founder of the website, countered the Task Force, saying its decisions were based on “old-fashioned studies using old-fashioned technology: film mammography instead of what we have today, which is digital mammography. And they use that old-fashioned literature to make futuristic predictions.” In fact, she said, “it is the younger woman who is going to derive the greatest benefit from today’s technology.” Indeed, in 2005, a comparative study found that digital mammography was “significantly better” than film mammography at detecting breast cancer in young women and women with dense breasts.

That may sound like good news for some. But better imaging doesn’t solve the radiation problem, and there’s reason to believe that it may actually increase the risk of overdiagnosis.

TWO DAYS AFTER my mammogram, the telephone rings.

“Could I speak to Jennifer Lunden, please?”

“This is she.”

“Jennifer, this is Bonnie Raymond calling from Mercy Hospital. The radiologist has asked me to give you a call because he found a suspicious mass on your right breast, and he wants you to come back for a follow-up screening.”

Something inside me freezes.

“Oh,” I say. “Okay.”

“Can you come in on Monday, March second, at nine a.m.?”

“Yes . . . uh . . . yeah, I can do that.”

I hang up the phone, lie down on my bed, and think about the radiologists in the Gladwell essay. I think about Gøtzsche’s data, and about slow-growing tumors.

But what if they find something? Then where will I be with all my facts?

I RETURN TO THE HOSPITAL on the appointed day with an odd mix of resignation and resentment. My mammography tech, Carney, whose cheeriness is a welcome contrast to Gert’s all-business demeanor, points out the little white spot on my X-ray and says, “It might be nothing, but it would help to look at it from a few additional angles.” She tells me her grandmother died from breast cancer because she wouldn’t go to the doctor, even after she found a lump. “It’s amazing how much you can miss someone,” she says wistfully, as she slides back the curtain to exit the room.

This time, the hospital has scheduled me for an ultrasound as well. Another room, another machine. The tech has a soft southern drawl and wears orange scrubs bearing the logo for the Dallas Cowboys. She applies a cold gel to my breast and moves the paddle across it while she scrutinizes the monitor. Back and forth. Back and forth. I stare up at the ceiling, which is painted sky blue with puffy cumulous clouds, and say, “So, when you do this, is it sort of like dredging the lake for bodies?”

“Sort of,” she replies.

Finally, after two hours of bouncing from room to room and submitting my right breast to various forms of imaging, the verdict, delivered by the Dallas Cowboys fan, is in. Everything is fine, she says. Two benign cysts.


A week later, a letter from the hospital arrives in the mail, the results typed in all caps, immediately following three alarming little asterisks:


But I have already promised myself and my breasts that I am not going back.




THE NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE’S online breast cancer risk-assessment calculator asks just nine questions. When I plugged in my information, I learned, perhaps predictably given the limited survey, that my results were exactly average. At age forty-one, my risk of breast cancer was 0.7 percent.

While I was relieved to see that my risk was so low, overall I was disappointed with the experience, because the risk-assessment calculator did not ask what I have come to know are very important questions when calculating a woman’s risk for breast cancer. For instance, it didn’t ask about my history of radiation exposure from X-rays, CT scans, and airport scanners. It did not ask how many cosmetic products I wear, whether I am exposed to air fresheners, what kinds of cleaning products I use. It didn’t ask if I’ve used birth control pills, and if so, for how long. There were no questions at all about endocrine-disrupting compounds or carcinogens. And none about my diet, my body-mass index, or how much I exercise.

Despite the prominence of breast cancer in our media and our culture, these questions are largely missing from the conversation.

CHARLOTTE HALEY wanted to change that. By the time she was sixty-eight, Haley had watched her grandmother battle breast cancer, and then her sister, and, finally, even her daughter. She was outraged by what seemed to be a dearth of research on how to prevent the disease. One day, she sat down at her dining-room table with some spools of peach-colored ribbon, a pair of scissors, and hundreds of little cards bearing this message: “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.” It was 1990. She sent her ribbons to prominent women all over the country, from former first ladies to Dear Abby, hoping to effect a sea change in the way the breast cancer epidemic was being addressed.

Two years later, as Self editor Alexandra Penney was busy preparing the magazine’s second annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue, she had her own ribbon idea. What if she took a page from the HIV movement and created a ribbon to promote breast cancer awareness? And what if Estée Lauder — whose senior corporate vice president, Evelyn Lauder, had guest edited the previous year’s issue — distributed the ribbon at its cosmetic counters?

When Penney learned of Haley’s campaign, she called her up and asked her to join forces with Self. But Haley declined, saying Penney’s plan was too commercial. So Penney consulted with Self magazine’s lawyers, who recommended she choose another color for her ribbon. With the help of a focus group tasked with identifying the color that was most reassuring and least threatening, she chose pink. That year, Estée Lauder distributed 1.5 million ribbons, and the pink ribbon movement was born.

Twenty-one years later, the emblem is as ubiquitous as the Nike logo or the golden arches. In “Welcome to Cancerland: A Mammogram Leads to a Cult of Pink Kitch,” critic and breast cancer survivor Barbara Ehrenreich lists what she describes as a “cornucopia” of pink ribbon products:

You can dress in pink-beribboned sweatshirts, denim shirts, pajamas, lingerie, aprons, loungewear, shoelaces, and socks; accessorize with pink rhinestone brooches, angel pins, scarves, caps, earrings, and bracelets; brighten up your home with breast-cancer candles, stained-glass pink-ribbon candleholders, coffee mugs, pendants, wind chimes, and night-lights; pay your bills with special Breast Checks or a separate line of Checks for the Cure.

Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, adds a host of cosmetics to the list: “We can ‘shower for a cure’ with pink ribbon gel, dust our cheeks with ‘Hint of a Cure’ blush and ‘Kiss Good-Bye to Breast Cancer’ with Avon lipstick.”

Through the pink ribbon, corporate America has embraced cause-related marketing — reframing shopping as a way to fight disease. Estée Lauder blazed the trail, making breast cancer its cause célèbre. Avon and Revlon followed. Now, companies as diverse as Clorox, Evian, Ford, Mars, and American Airlines leverage the marketing power of the pink ribbon. Even agricultural biotechnology monolith Monsanto has jumped on the pink ribbon bandwagon. In 2009, a seed-development company called Seminis (a Monsanto subsidiary) launched a new variety of cherry tomato called the Pink Pearl, which was sold in packaging displaying — you guessed it — the pink ribbon.

In terms of visibility, the campaign has been a colossal success. What it is doing for women’s health may be harder to quantify. For one thing, the pink ribbon is unlicensed and unregulated. Which means not only that any company can use the symbol to sell its products, but that those companies don’t actually have to commit a dime to breast cancer research. Purchasing Procter & Gamble’s limited edition pink Swiffer sweeper, for example (released in October of 2009), wouldn’t have resulted in any money at all being donated for breast cancer research or detection — unless you also sent in a coupon from the company’s brandSAVER coupon book, which was distributed to newspapers on September 27 of that year. And then? Procter & Gamble donated two cents from your purchase to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Some companies are more generous than others. Estée Lauder’s pink ribbon lipstick and blusher raised $120,000 for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (which was founded by Evelyn Lauder) between 1993 and 1995. And Evelyn Lauder, herself a breast cancer survivor, personally raised much of the $13.6 million necessary to build the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Avon, Revlon, and Estée Lauder all donate funds to sponsor breast cancer awareness events.

It is surprising, given their commitment to the cause, that all three cosmetics companies would manufacture and market products with ingredients that include hormone disruptors and other suspected carcinogens. But both Revlon and Estée Lauder were singled out in the Environmental Working Group’s 2005 Skin Deep report for using toxic ingredients, scoring eighth and ninth, respectively, on the “Top 20 Brands of Concern.” All three companies — Avon, Revlon, and Estée Lauder — declined to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a pledge to produce personal-care products that are free of chemicals known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, mutation, or birth defects. In fact, through their trade association, the Personal Care Products Council, all three companies opposed a California bill that would require cosmetics manufacturers to disclose their use of chemicals linked to cancer or birth defects.

The hard truth is that a market-based approach to the breast cancer issue falls dramatically short when it comes to anything that might pose a threat to the corporate bottom line.

WHY ARE WE so fixated on awareness, anyway? Aren’t we all aware by now that breast cancer exists? That it is a bad disease? That it touches the lives of far too many women?

And why this fetishizing of mammograms? It is a testament to the monumental success of the breast cancer awareness movement that the majority of women continue to get annual mammograms despite the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s revised recommendations. According to a study published in April of this year in the peer-reviewed journal Cancer, nearly half of all women in their forties are still flocking to imaging centers all over the country. Even more troubling is the fact that all this awareness has somehow led 68 percent of women to believe that mammograms actually prevent cancer. But mammograms don’t prevent cancer. Prevention prevents cancer.

There are organizations, such as Breast Cancer Action and the Breast Cancer Fund, that are dedicated to preventing cancer through ferreting out its causes, empowering women to make healthier choices, and pressuring the U.S. government to change the policies that put all of us at risk. But why do their efforts seem so small in the sea of pink?

Answer: corporate sponsorship.

It is illuminating to examine the key players in National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Or perhaps I should say “key player,” because for a long time there was just one: Zeneca, the pharmaceutical giant that became known as AstraZeneca following a merger in 1999. On the surface, the company’s decision to market and fund National Breast Cancer Awareness Month appears philanthropic. But when I learned that AstraZeneca is the maker of Tamoxifen, the most widely prescribed breast cancer drug on the planet, suddenly the focus on awareness seemed less than benevolent. Because the greater the number of women diagnosed, the greater the sales of AstraZeneca’s star drug.

Zeneca launched National Breast Cancer Awareness Month — and the slogan “Early detection is the best protection” — in 1985, and for the first few years the corporation was its sole funder. It still wields control over the marketing. Which means it wields control over the message. And the message is this: Breast cancer is an individual problem and an individual responsibility. The sensible woman gets annual mammograms and, when diagnosed, seeks cancer treatment.

Early detection is a gold mine for the drug company. In a 2002 PowerPoint presentation, Brent Vose, then head of oncology for AstraZeneca, described the corporation as having a “unique franchise in breast and prostate cancer,” and said that “the move into early disease represents an enormous expansion of the potential market.”

So prevention doesn’t get much attention during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Nor does the rampant production and marketing of products that contain ingredients known or suspected to cause cancer.

According to natural health advocate Tony Isaacs, Zeneca itself did not exactly have a stellar record when it came to carcinogenic products. The agrochemical arm of the company produced pesticides such as Paraquat and Fusilade — both classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “possible human carcinogens” — and in 1994 it introduced Acetochlor, which was classified as a “probable human carcinogen.” Zeneca’s now-defunct parent company, Imperial Chemical Industries, was the owner of what was once identified as the third-largest source of potentially cancer-causing pollution in the U.S. In 1990, the company was named in a lawsuit by the federal government for allegedly dumping DDT and PCBs into the harbors in both Los Angeles and Long Beach, and in 1996 it released fifty-three thousand pounds of recognized carcinogens into the air.

Why eliminate cancer-causing chemicals from your product line when you can profit from them coming and going? In 1997, sales of Acetochlor, the probable human carcinogen, accounted for approximately $300 million in profits for Zeneca, while sales of Tamoxifen, the cancer-fighting drug, added up to about $500 million. “Clearly, cancer prevention would conflict with Zeneca’s business plan,” wrote Peter Montague in Rachel’s Environment and Health Weekly. Other corporations that sell both pharmaceuticals and pesticides include Aventis, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Merck, and Monsanto.

But there’s plenty of conflict of interest to go around when it comes to the pinkwashing of America. Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a nonprofit that sits alongside AstraZeneca on the list of Breast Cancer Awareness Month sponsors, owns stock in several pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, and also in General Electric (GE), one of the largest makers of mammogram machines in the world.

In St. Louis, Missouri, the Race for the Cure is sponsored in part by Monsanto, whose genetically modified crops are almost singlehandedly responsible for tripling the use of the herbicide glyphosate since 1997, when its Roundup Ready seeds were first introduced. Until 2008, Monsanto was also the producer and distributor of rBGH, the artificial hormone given to cows to make them produce more milk. Because rBGH has been linked to breast cancer and other health problems in humans, it has been banned in Canada, Australia, Japan, and all twenty-seven countries of the European Union — but not in the U.S.

DuPont, which supplies much of the film used in mammography machines, is also well served by the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month push for early and frequent mammograms. A contributor to the American Cancer Society (ACS) and one of the world’s largest chemical companies, DuPont rivals GE — another ACS supporter — for Superfund sites.

Even the American Cancer Society itself — whose board members, over the years, have held ties to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, to drug companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, and to industries that produce carcinogenic products, such as the Sherwin-Williams Company (think paint stripper) — is not free from blame. With reported annual net assets of over $1.5 billion, the ACS “is more interested in accumulating wealth than saving lives,” says the nation’s leading charity watchdog, the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The ACS has a long history of obfuscating links between chemicals and cancer, according to an article in the International Journal of Health Services, and was conspicuously silent on California’s Cosmetics Safety Act, which passed without the nonprofit’s support in 2005. The Cancer Prevention Coalition says the ACS allocates under 0.1 percent of its annual budget to investigating environmental causes of cancer. Five radiologists have served as its president.

More recently, there is some evidence that the ACS is beginning to give prevention its due. In 2009, it published a position statement recognizing “the essential role of cancer prevention in reducing the burden of disease, suffering, and death from cancer.” However, it’s hard to imagine how much headway the ACS can make on prevention when its major donors include companies like DuPont and AstraZeneca.

The Cancer Industrial Complex — that’s what Barbara Ehrenreich calls “the multinational corporate enterprise that with the one hand doles out carcinogens and disease and, with the other, offers expensive semi-toxic pharmaceutical treatments.” Given that breast cancer treatment is a $16.5 billion-a-year industry, it’s easy to see why Ehrenreich calls the disease “the darling of corporate America.”

OF COURSE, if we’re serious about trying to prevent breast cancer, we need to figure out what causes it. Studies indicate that fewer than 30 percent of breast cancers are genetically based. And what of the other 70 percent? Exact figures are uncertain, but researchers say that exposure to radiation and chemicals, as well as poor diet, high body fat, lack of exercise, and hormone replacement therapy, are all likely culprits. Even those cancers with a genetic basis may have been triggered into full expression by risk factors such as these.

It is difficult to pinpoint just how many breast cancers are caused by chemical exposures. Carcinogenic chemicals insinuate themselves surreptitiously, and their impact on the body makes its appearance so long after the fact that people rarely make the connection. According to testing done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we all have some combination of more than 212 industrial chemicals — including at least six known to cause cancer and dozens more that have been linked to the disease — lurking in our bodies: stealth toxicants.

In April 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel — a two-member panel that met with forty-five experts before coming to its conclusions — released a groundbreaking report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” which criticized the U.S. government for its failure to adequately regulate environmental toxicants. In their cover letter to the president, the panelists wrote that they were “particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated.”

While many people believe that the government regulates chemicals in order to keep Americans safe, the effectiveness of such efforts is limited at best, in part because industry insiders are calling the shots. For example, in 2009, President Obama put Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor in charge of regulating his own industry by appointing him Senior Advisor to the Commissioner of the FDA. And in 2012, the FDA was caught spying on its own employees — five whistle-blowers who were e-mailing documents to legislators and lawyers that showed the agency was using faulty review procedures to approve GE mammogram machines that did not reliably identify breast cancer and/or exposed patients to dangerous levels of radiation. A review by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel later found “significant likelihood” that those and certain other radiological devices approved by the FDA posed “a substantial and specific danger to public safety.” To this day, the FDA does not require the cosmetics industry to demonstrate the safety of its products.

And then there’s the Environmental Protection Agency, which is charged with protecting us from environmental chemicals such as pesticides. In the thirty-five years since the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 was enacted, the EPA has restricted the uses of just five of the eighty thousand chemicals in circulation. A full 95 percent of chemicals in use have never been tested for safety.

If you review the Breast Cancer Fund’s 127-page report State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment, you’ll find a jaw-dropping list of chemical compounds known or suspected to cause breast cancer. These include benzene, found in cosmetics, including nail polish, and also in gasoline fumes, car exhaust, and cigarette smoke; 1,3-butadiene, found in hair mousse and gels, shaving creams, and cigarettes; ethylene oxide, found in fragrance; urethane, found in mousses, gels, and hair sprays, and in cosmetics, including nail polish, mascara, and foundation; perfluorocarbons (PFCs), found in nonstick coating on cookware, and in stain guard on furniture, carpets, and clothing; and toluene and resmethrin, found in pesticides.

But carcinogens are not the only cause of breast cancer. According to functional medicine specialist Dr. Elizabeth Boham, “the most damaging environmental toxin when it comes to breast cancer is estrogen and substances that mimic it.” Endocrine-disrupting compounds — which are stored in fat and bioaccumulate — can emulate natural hormones, particularly estrogens, and since high exposure to estrogen is known to increase the risk of breast cancer, the Breast Cancer Fund recommends avoiding these chemicals as much as possible.

Not an easy thing to do, it turns out. A list compiled by researcher Dr. Theo Colborn, author of Our Stolen Future, documents around eight hundred potential endocrine disruptors. Culprits include Bisphenol A (BPA), which is in the interior lining of almost all metal food and beverage cans; phthalates, found in air fresheners, perfumes, nail polish, baby-care products, cleaning products, and insecticides; parabens, found in underarm deodorant and cosmetics, including creams, lotions, and ointments; synthetic musks, found in fragrance; nonylphenol ethoxylate, found in cleaning products and air fresheners; alkylphenols, found in hair products and spermicides; bovine growth hormone (rBGH/rBST), found in most cow’s milk and other commercial dairy products; many pesticides and herbicides; and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, found in charred or grilled meats and in cigarette smoke. Oral contraceptives and hormone-replacement therapy have also been found to increase the risk of breast cancer.

A woman attempting to steer clear of all these toxicants would find it virtually impossible.

GIVEN THE COMPLEX WEB of industries with their hands in the breast cancer money pot, it’s not hard to see that a focus on prevention would threaten to collapse the whole enterprise. It’s a shell game of monumental proportions. These masters of illusion instill us with fear, then with a little sleight of hand distract us from the real problem. And the real problem is that the majority of breast cancers are triggered by environmental factors, including exposures to toxicants. And toxicants are everywhere.

Instead of obsessing about detection, we ought to be promoting precaution. It’s a simple idea, really: when in doubt, play it safe. The European Union is paving the way with REACH, a law implemented in 2007 that requires manufacturers and importers to register the chemicals in their products with the European Chemical Agency, and to include in their registration packets data on the hazards of each chemical. Chemicals are evaluated and then either authorized or restricted. Thanks to REACH, some of the cosmetics companies peddling products containing questionable chemicals to Americans are already selling those very products, but with less-hazardous chemicals, to our neighbors across the pond.

Why are American women not outraged by this fact alone?

“We used to march in the streets,” says Ehrenreich. “Now, we’re supposed to ‘Run for a Cure.’” Imagine what change could be effected if all those women in pink turned their energies toward working to pass legislation that would protect all of us from the chemicals that cause cancer. Imagine if the millions of dollars spent searching for a “cure” were instead invested in researching causes and prevention. Because if we truly want a cure for the breast cancer epidemic, we don’t need more mammograms. We don’t need more ribbons. What we need is to face a truth that is not pretty, not pink, and not reassuring at all. Chemicals are in our bodies. They are causing cancer. And all the pink ribbons in the world aren’t going to fix that. O


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Jennifer Lunden’s debut essay, “The Butterfly Effect,” won first prize in the Creative Nonfiction animal issue (Winter 2011), went on to win a Pushcart, and later was anthologized in True Stories, Well Told… From 20 Years of Creative Nonfiction Magazine. She told a version of “The Butterfly Effect” at Slant, a storytelling night organized by the Telling Room, in Portland, Maine. The essay has now been optioned for a short film.

Lunden’s poems have been published in Sweet, Peacock JournalPoetry Canada Review and The Café Review, and she has read them live on CBC radio. “Killing Things,” a flash fiction piece, appeared in Wigleaf and “The Fish Story” was published in Eclectica. Her documentary Sadie’s Last Day was an official selection of the Maine International Film Festival.

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and former therapist, she provides individual and group supervision to other therapists and has also taught social work online for Simmons University and the University of New England. Her essay about therapeutic writing, “Salvage, Salvation, Salve: Writing That Heals,” appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of Creative Nonfiction. In 2012 she was named Maine’s Social Worker of the Year for her campaign to prevent cuts to Maine’s Medicaid program.


  1. Japanese women have some of the lowest breast cancer rates because of the iodine intake in their diet,(pre-fukushima) many studies indicate proper iodine intake can reverse tumors/cancer along with the other obvious health changes.

  2. I zapped the comment I initially wrote to this article, which I didn’t manage to finish.
    It provoked me to think and question, up until the point where its main focus became capitalism, and conflict of interest.
    I believe that pointing the finger at the corporate world is seeing the tip of the iceberg. (More later.)
    At 57, I have currently abandoned the mammos that I started, like a good doctor’s.. daughter, wife, and mother, at age 35, and now have gone for two years without consulting, despite the fact that in the eyes of the medical establishment, I am at high risk of developing breast cancer.
    This article reflects our general beliefs about health, and our relationship to our bodies. It does not take into account one very important aspect which is taking us down : our refusal to acknowledge just how much our individual and collective beliefs contribute to, if not determine, the outcome of our treatment, whatever that treatment may be. (Re Dale Carnegie’s anecdote about the man who died of cold in an unplugged refrigerator wagon simply because he believed that it was plugged in…)
    Our collective beliefs have shifted considerably since the 1970’s, when my mother, diagnosed with breast cancer in her early fifties, engaged in a spirited life long battle to survive, urged on by her oncologist who she loved, respected, and was grateful to, and bolstered by her faith in God, and Jesus, and the material and spiritual support of her pastor, and church. If she survived, with multiple relapses at a time when the prognosis was so poor, she did so because she had faith… in God AND in her doctor, and not… in her doctor as God. Big nuance, there…
    While we point fingers at the consumer society, we are not seeing how much WE… the people, have come to believe that death is an unnatural injustice, and have come to demand much of the flesh and blood doctors who are not God, never will be, and definitely SHOULD NOT BE.
    The medical profession, perhaps like the pharmaceutical industry ? suffers from the groaning weight of the unnatural (from my perspective..) demands that our society makes on it.

    Over 2500 years ago, in a Greek play that continues to be prophetic for our time (Sophocles’ “Antigone”), the well intentioned ruler, Creon, who has the people’s best interest at heart, foams at the mouth upon hearing that someone has disobeyed an order that demonstrates how he believes… that he has been entrusted with power over the living and the dead. And he immediately believes that the person who defies him… does so for money. (Could that have something to do with our haste to invoke conflict of interest ?)
    But Antigone does not sacrifice herself for money. She does so to remind him AND US, that there are laws for the living which do not extend to the dead.
    Until we begin to come to terms with the idea that our death is irremediable, not secretly nursing the… folly ? that modern science will render us immortal, we will continue to suffer from the unnatural faith that we put in our doctors…
    Last of all, if you look at the literature around you, and step back a minute, you COULD be shocked to see how the imperative to TREAT, and to transform almost all aspects of our existence into treatment, or something that is “good for us” determines the way we live right now.
    Do we really want to reduce our existences to acting on the basis of what is “good” for us ??
    That’s hygienism/eugenism on a grand scale. (The prefix “eu” means “good”…)
    The people of classical Greece had the considerable advantage over us of believing that what is good is beautiful, and vice versa. We seem to believe right now that what is good is.. functional, and practical, and have scratched the ideal of beauty as something essential to our lives.
    Count me out…

  3. I’ve been a registered nurse for 33 years, and this article adds confirmation to my already stalwart conclusion that if we don’t get big business out of healthcare, we will continue to make little headway in our quest to reduce human suffering. Healthcare for profits and real, progressive, appropriate and timely medical management are ethically and morally opposed to one another. Prevention takes away from the bottom line, as do non-invasive treatments or a “wait and see” approach. When doctors are forced to see twenty or more patients a day, there is no time to discuss meaningful diet and lifestyle changes that are the only lasting cures for many of our modern chronic illnesses. And even if there WERE time for this, and insurances would be WILLING to reimburse for this type of “treatment”, medical schools would have to expand their paltry requirement for nutrition education. In medicine and to a larger extent in many areas of our society, instead of redesigning or discarding old, inefficient, or harmful ways of doing things, we put patches on patches on patches. Our inventors and innovators are increasingly rendered powerless by our corporatocracy. I continue to imagine a world where human need and quality of life are tantamount to greed and the almighty dollar.

  4. First, I always have a reaction to the “cancer cure” question. It amazes me that people don’t see the scam that the cancer industry has created. They will never find a cure because it would put them out of business. Pharma makes billions of dollars from their treatments and doctors are in on the scam.

    My wife, thank goodness, refuses to get a mammogram. Last time they went looking she used a sonogram. She believes that the mammograms actually cause cancer and just provide more capital for Big Pharma.

    The way to avoid cancer is to eat right, produce very healthy mitochondria and a healthy gut and you will have NOTHING to worry about, No colds, no flu, no cancer, no Alzheimers, only perfect health. Of course this means getting rid of sugar, refined carbs, gluten, dairy, etc. Must eat mostly leafy greens, cruciferous veggies (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, etc), and get cardiovascular exercise.

    Basically, what we need to do is take charge of our health and not rely on Doctors, drug companies, pharmacies, to keep us healthy.

    Dr Perlmutter’s book, Power up your brain, goes into detail about mitochondria, glutathione, and cancer.

  5. I’m a survivor of stage 1 bc, with no node involvement. I can’t help but wish I hadn’t had all the mammals I had throughout my life, even with the fact that my 1/2 centimeter tumor was found on one. The jury is out and I am not planning on any more mammos. My gut tells me that in my personal case, they do more harm than good. I share the concern for damage done to the sensitive cells in breast tissue that likely cause a change. I detest the pink washing and the support spouted by big companies that slather their products with logs that make us feel good. It’s time to focus on using products that are safe and living healthier lives by focusing on diet and lifestyle changes. Great article!

  6. Thought-provoking article, thanks. From a comment below: “The way to avoid cancer is to eat right, produce very healthy mitochondria and a healthy gut and you will have NOTHING to worry about, No colds, no flu, no cancer, no Alzheimers, only perfect health.” While I understand the sentiment (and its truth in some cases) it’s deeply misguided and fails to recognize the extreme threats our toxic environment presents. You can do everything “right” and still get cancer b/c of heavy metal exposure in childhood. I know more totally green, healthy, proactive lifestyle women with breast cancer than any other kind. Also, while personal choices are critical, I am very wary of any prevention modality whose efficacy is limited by race, class and cultural inequities, let alone one which blames the victim for not eating enough cauliflower while letting the M-I complex off the hook.

    For an essential look at the myriad issues surrounding cancer and culture, look for a new book out this fall, Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us, by Lochlann Jain. It’s excellent.

  7. Finally someone had the guts to say this emperor has no clothes! This totally validates my decision to stop having mammograms. Wish I’d never had any. Years ago a friend asked me to sponsor her in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I did just a little research and found out that they are headquartered at a plastics corporation and they refuse to investigate environmental toxins as a cause of breast cancer. So I wrote to my friend and told her what I found out and that I donated to the Breast Cancer Fund instead. She never even responded. There is so much pressure to conform on this issue, and speaking out makes you unpopular. But maybe the tide is turning. Thank you Orion!

  8. Lifting the veil…what an intense rush to see in print these statements of truth about a very sick world. This dominant culture, this insistence that there is only ONE WAY of being human, is the ultimate cancer. It is killing its host – we are killing ourselves.

    There is too much money in the Alberta Tar Sands to stop mining it. There is too much money in GMO corn to stop growing it. And there is too much money in cancer to cure it. It’s all connected – all part of the same cancerous tumor: the disease of a culture hell bent on consuming everything until there is nothing left to consume but itself.

    Yet, this culture is not humanity.

  9. I was diagnosed with Stage III locally advanced breast cancer in
    Sept 2012 with one cancerous lymph noe. I had not had a mamogram since 2005. I had a negative breast exam in 2011. I had to have
    a biopsy for insurance purposes which I did not want. The doctor called me on the phone and told me
    it was aggressive and had old cells. I said how long do I have.
    I found Dr. Scot Sedlacek at Rocky
    Mt Cancer in Denver. He told me
    I had Estogen Progesterone postive
    breast cancer, No. 2 aggressive and
    slow growing. He gave me 4 choices – I picked the last choice
    Armidex for 6 months and lumpectomy and radiation (which I
    shook my head no). My tumor was
    8 x 6 cm and the lymph node was
    1.5 cm. I went to Dave Duell, a
    healer, I met Curtis Cain who had
    pancreatic cancer and he gave me
    books about affirmations to God and
    healing my past. I embarked on a
    spiritual journey – I attended mass, I prayed the rosary. I read
    Embrace, Release and Heal and Louise L. Hay. I ate brown rice with tumeric, rosemary, basil, flax
    seed oil, olive oil, white button
    mushrooms with onions. and cruciferious veggies. I took tripahalia, Vit D3, calcium, Quertican. Most importantly detoxified iodine from Edgar Cayce which I put on the breast and the lymph node. I used
    a hot water bottle and applied it
    along with castor oil to the breast with an oxygen concentrator. I also used a therasage far infared heating pad
    with the oxygen. I ate clementines, sardines, aalmon. I
    visualized the tumor shrinking.
    15,2013, after a mammogram (without plates and compression at Rose Hospital, Denver CO I also
    PS. i TOOK BIRTH CONTROL BILLS FOR 25 years. I don’t know if this is the cause. I am keeping up my program and taking Armidex.
    I thank God everyday.

  10. Excellent article. I hope more and more people would wake up to this. The problem is that we are all in denial and don’t want to know things like this. We want to believe that by doing preventative tests we will be immune to sickness. Too bad that big business runs our country. Thanks for your work on this article and subject. It must have been very hard to research and write.

  11. I’m a university trained nurse and health educator, survivor of cancer. I used to work in a cancer clinical trials headquarters for very ethical researchers, but, had to quit and go to work in the environmental movement when the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center published an article in the Seattle Times attributing a link from toxins in our environment to 75% of cancer incidence.

    I’m working in a nonprofit who works to prevent toxic exposure in our homes and children’s/personal products. I’m shocked that known carcinogens cannot even get banned, we are working on banning flame retardants this year. We got BPA banned form baby bottles and sports bottles.

    Only 8% of the philanthropy pie in our state supports environmental causes. Of that 8% very small slice is environmental health.

    We all need to raise our voices so that precious funding goes to prevention, and to confronting the chemical industry who has washed us with 50,000-70,000 chemicals over the last 30 years with 5,000 of them known hormone disrupters and carcinogens.

    The chemical industry is spending $100 Million this fall to fight our Toxic Free Kids and Family Legacy. Please go to Watoxics dot org and donate today.

    I am a cancer survivor, and lost both my parents to cancer. This epidemic is caused by toxics in our environment. The toxics are also impacting learning disorders, autism spectrum, adhd, birth defects and alzheimers. Can we confront this chemical legacy together and kick these poisons out of our products?

    Watch out – the Trans Pacific Treaty now being negotiated by Obama would take away our rights to limit the products sold in our country and let China get away with Wal-Mart toxics on our shelves that we would lose say so to control. Watch that battle, too.

    Blessings to you all, this is a fantastic article and deeply important discussion.

  12. I have been using thermography (digital infrared thermal imaging) for more than a year now. I pay cash out of pocket for this service. (It’s not covered by insurance). I think it’s a non-invasive alternative to mammograms, and I am grateful that it’s available where I live. What I would wish is that this service would be available to all women, everywhere, who choose it, and that it be covered by insurance.

  13. Having had my share of sports and dental related x rays by age 47 I opted to start thermal imaging for yearly breast check ups.

    But previously I had had a mammogram and a spot was found. More x-rays, then a biopsy revealed cells that did not seem to be cancerous but warranted regular screening.

    My first thermal clearly identified previously id’ed spot found by mammogram as well as a similar area on other breast. I went to see oncologist at USAFB Lackland, in San Antonio for assessment. He dismissed the value of thermal imaging and demanded – yes demanded another mammogram and after 30 mins of debating the value of more radiation, I submitted. Then the tech told me Dr. wanted more angles. So more angles. Then Dr. needed to do an ultra sound. After all of that fear mongering and additional radiation, Dr told me he could not detect Anything! Not even the original cells. Nothing.
    Seriously?? My respect for not only dr’s, oncologists and ray techs has has deteriorated to complete distrust.

  14. I’ll tell you why: My dear, late husband and I spent a whole lot of money! … educating one of our sons to be a ‘cell biologist’ … MD/PHD … he was doing breast cancer research at Stanford University when ‘the money ran out’ … the George W Bush wars – off-budget in our country’s bookkeeping – was/has been disastrous for research and moving ahead. I am so sorry … Our son is ok … he switched from research to physician – not his first love, but a living. We have two other sons: a college professor and an International businessman.

  15. I am a 46 year old 3X cancer survivor and that excludes several other life threatening illnesses. my plight began at birth, my mother never drank or smoked, ever. I was born with Wilms’ tumor, for which they removed my right kidney. it was followed by chemotherapy and radiation, on my 3 month old body. I lived but as I grew they realized that the radiation had caused severe kyphoscoliosis of my spine. At age 16 I was diagnosed with Hodgkins’ Disease between my heart and my lung. Probably due to the radiation I received for my prior cancer. Again radiation and chemotherapy. Now at midlife I was diagnosed with great cancer, they believe that the radiation to my mediastinum in my formative years for the Hodgkins’ was the cause of the breast cancer. The oncologists said I’d already received my lifetimes fill of radiation ,so I had no choice but chemotherapy and bilateral mastectomies. AsterZeneca was saying if you wrote to them they might be able to help pay for some of the treatment, Iwrote and wrote but nothing! I survived and am here to tell about it.Would love to shar more of my story if anyone is interested or has any questions.

  16. European women are called into bi-annual mammograms starting at age 50 unless there is reason to start earlier, and most women are aware of the studies that suggest that many cancers will not require treatment and at least the theoretical possibility that mammograms might in some cases trigger cancer growth – and we can make informed choices on the screening we wish or do not wish to have. I find it interesting that this article points out that changes in technology might make early screening in younger women with an increased chance of BC more important – and hope that there is not a great back-lash against early screening as technology advances. My feeling is that most women are aware that they might be treating cancer unnecessarily – but that the alternative is so much worse that they chose the treatment anyway. A focus on distinguishing those cancers that will spread from those that will not in all types of cancer is greatly needed.

  17. This is in response to Mr. Diggins, comment # 4. I want you to know that your belief that if only we ate right, exercised and adopted a healthy lifestyle is very naive. I wish it were that simple. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 38 after a lifetime of organic eating and years spent exercising. My support group, Bay Area Young Survivors, is full of women who were diagnosed before the age of 40. None of us spent our lives sitting around eating pints of ice cream all day, boozing it up every night and surviving on ding dongs. It would be nice if eating a diet of organic foods and running every day would prevent all cancer, but I can tell you first hand that it just isn’t so.

  18. This is an important discussion that needs to get out from the little circle of Orion readers and so called ‘liberals. It needs to reach the majority of people who are deliberately left in the dark and don’t have a clue about what’s going on. Those individuals never ask questions when they go to see a doctor and don’t want to take some responsibilities for their own health thinking that modern western medicine will solve all their health problems. They are brainwashed by advertising and misleading media reports. They probably don’t even know how the American health care system works and what there is in the food and products that they buy at their local grocery stores. One of the biggest challenges is how to approach those people with a convincing argument without being labeled as ‘ liberal, hippie or socialist etc.’ As soon as that mindset gets loose in their minds, communication breaks down dashing all the hopes to engage them in a constructive dialogue. If there is not an overwhelming grassroots support to create new laws that could help ‘harness’ the political power of chemical/pharmaceutical corporations it will be harder to make any changes to the existing status quo.

  19. Yes, Betty you are right that much greater public awareness is needed. It’s common sense actually, the 84,000 chemical toxins in use today are NOT regulated and why not? The FDA watches over our drugs and food, who is watching out for the poisons in our products (clothing, furniture, toys, beauty etc). That’s not a “liberal” or hippie message, that’s a common sense approach.

    The message in this article that regulatory and policies and laws need to be put into place to protect us from toxics is 100% spot on.

    In Washington state, only 8% of the philanthropic pie goes to the environmental nonprofit sector, and of that tiny percent a much much less % goes to environmental health – the prevention of cancers and diseases, and a tiny tiny minority of us do actual political advocacy work to get leaders elected who know about and care about toxics, and to grow public awareness that much more funding is necessary to combat the $100 Million which the chemical industry is spending to combat toxics regulation. And, that amount doesn’t count the retailers and other industry who are fighting the public’s right to have these carcinogens, hormone disruptors and “obesogens” outlawed.

    There is, however, a tidal wave of public sentiment and support to regulate toxics that I’m encountering.

    Right now the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 is being reformed in Congress, and we need stricter regulation AND more teeth for the EPA to enforce.

    This article really laid out the pink-washing of America, but these chemicals are also causing learning disabilities including autism spectrum, and reproductive disease including lowered sperm counts and sperm motility and birth defects such as hypospadias.

    Yes, we need to get this information beyond Orion readers, but it’s a tremendous article here that I’m patching out to everyone I know including my doctor. I’ve shared it with our local Gilda’s Club chapter, the firefighters association, the Washington State Occupational Nurses Association, on and on.

    Send this link to your elected reps and demand better funding for prevention. It was breast cancer patients that lobbied to get treatment and research originally, and breast cancer survivors can replicate their success by demanding prevention. Yes?

    What are your ideas on how we can get this prevention movement popularized and well funded?

  20. Cheryl, I think the movement to prevent toxic exposure is growing quickly. One thing that we can do (and we shouldn’t have to do this, the onus should be on corporations and the FDA/EPA) is contact manufacturers about their products. Yesterday I contacted a toy company regarding flame retardants in their stuffed animals. They responded quickly and let me know that their toys were free of flame retardants. I made a point to thank them and tell them that I would be their customer. We need to tell companies that this is a very important issue.
    Betty, I know your comments are well meaning, but please read my comment directly above yours (#17). You should know that cancer can strike anyone, not just people who “don’t want to take responsibility for their own health thinking that modern western medicine will solve all their health problems”. After a life time of healthful living–organic, mostly vegetarian food, daily workouts, mindful living–I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 38. Everyone in my support group was diagnosed under the age of 40, and we were all health conscious women living in the liberal paradise of the Bay Area, CA. When you are trying to survive for your kids and your family most will submit to the nasty “treatments” that western medicine provides. Chemo is ridiculous, but it is the best we have right now.

  21. Wendy: I understand that this is a very complex issue and that anybody can get cancer despite the lifestyle, diet etc. I am aware that western medicine is the only feasible option available. I am not disputing these facts.

    Cheryl: “What are your ideas on how we can get this prevention movement popularized and well funded?”

    I shared this article on FB hoping that my ‘friends’ would share it with their ‘friends’ etc. I also posted the link on Twitter. I have no idea how many people will actually read it and share it, though. I know that this is not enough…

  22. Washington Toxics Coalition is behind the Toxic Free Kids and Family Act in the state legislature this fall. It would outlaw 3 flame retardants.

    The Toxics Substance Control Act of 1976 is being reformed in Congress in DC. Contact your electeds, the reform should include tighter fed regulations and teeth for EPA.

    The movement against toxics is growing quickly. It is in fact a tidal wave. The $100 Million spent this year by the American Chemical Association to fight grassroots demands to regulate toxics is not enough.

    Washington Toxics Coalition has many research papers and information for families on their web at watoxics dot org.

    There must be a policy focus, there must be pressure on the electeds, there must be consumer advocacy in the market place.

    The Washington Toxics Coalition released a paper 2 weeks ago documenting that 25% of Wal-Mart jewelry for teens is highly contaminated with lead.

    The Washington Toxics Coalition is releasing a paper this fall in peer reviewed environmental health journal about how flame retardants in our home furnishings gets on our dust and clothes and goes through our home laundries and waste treatment plants to end up in our rivers. Chemical industry has denied “we didn’t put those chemicals in your river” and now the dots are connected using rigorous methodology.

    Folks can choose a group of their choice, the Breast Cancer Fund, the Washington Toxics Coalition, SAFER…and join the tidal wave demanding regulation of toxic chemicals and preventing their use in our consumer products.

    WTC tests consumer materials using a federally certified XRF radiation machine to identify elements in products. We are hosting demo fairs and training volunteers to go out and test products to confront the retailer or manufacturer.

    This movement cannot be derailed, and all of us are necessary to overcome the chemical industry.

    Washington state is also fighting the anti-GMO battle up here with I-522 up for vote in November.

    And, Washington State is also the lynchpin to stop coal trains from sending their mile-long cars through busy port cities and polluting several states along the way. The Whatcom County Council race will determine that battle for the world. Support the anti-coal port candidates up there with your donations.

    The League of Conservation Voters researched and funds pro-environment candidates. Check their chapter in your state and support them now. They’re carrying the major load of educating public on toxic issues. The Washington Conservation Voters ngo is fighting the coal train issue, the GMO and the toxics with us. Join one of the above organizations to help maximize your impact against toxics.

    May the force be with us. These actions above will help protect the vulnerable who can’t vote, and the marginalized who don’t have time to read literature. Thanks!

  23. Cheryl: local radio show? I have recently found out that there is a public radio station on Whidbey Island:

    Orion outside the box: A while back I approached the local library manager and suggested that the library should subscribe to Orion. After spending the summer in New England I am back in WA and recently went to the library to check its newspaper/magazine section. With disappointment I noticed that that section has been downsized. Orion was not on the shelf but the most mainstream magazines that you can think of. One way to get around this problem would be to donate a subscription to the library. However firstly I have to make sure that it will be displayed to make sure that I won’t waste the subscription. I will talk to the manager about it. 🙂

    GMO-battle I-522: I keep receiving flyers about it with a large printed VOTE-NO on them. These guys are so clever in twisting and manipulating words that initially I thought that they were telling me to do the right thing. Baffled, I suggested my husband, who is the only one who can vote in my household, to double check the validity of that statement. It turned out that those folks who do not want the labeling of GMO food mailed it to us. Now I am wondering how many people are going to be fooled by that flyer…

  24. GMO-battle I-522 update: Monsanto and other all powerful chemical companies have just left a message in my answering machine. They have invited me to attend to a telephone conference call. They want to tell me how the campaign to label genetically engineered food is misleading the public…I don’t want these companies to know my home phone number and intrude into my private life but I cannot do anything about it unless I decided to get rid of my phone. Is it not scary?

  25. well I read this and since diagnosed about three months a go, with breast cancer and now here comes all the treatment plans that I must do to survive, WHAT IS REAL AND WHAT IS NOT REAL. SO NOT KNOWING WHERE TO TURN.AFTER READING THIS ARTICLE I FEEL IT IS SO CORRECT AND MAYBE NOW I WILL DO MY OWN TREATMENT WHICH IS NOTHING AND BEING MORE AWARE OF ALL THE BULL CRAP IN THE WORLD

  26. Dear Carolyn,
    There have many that have walked the journey you face. Is there a breast cancer survivor support group in your area such as Gilda’s Club?

    I send my very sincere wishes for your finding your way through this trial and in becoming cancer free. Take care. You are not alone.

  27. Orion out of the box update: A couple of days ago I talked to the branch manager of the local library to find out what had happened to my Orion subscription request. She told me that she submitted it to the committee who makes decisions about new acquisitions but Orion was not selected. I could have submitted the request again but even if the committee had decided to subscribe to Orion in 2015 there was no guarantee that the magazine would have been displayed at my local library branch. Why is it so important that Orion is displayed here and not in another branch? Because where I live is a conservative stronghold and the majority of the locals are less likely to be exposed to such thought provoking writings. From my understanding the committee’s selection process about which library branch gets what is based on the type of library users, the popularity of the publication and the budget. With this kind of criteria Orion would have a slim chance to be included in its collection no matter how many times I submitted a request. The only way to overcome this hurdle was to donate an Orion subscription specifically to my local library branch. So I went ahead and made this donation. The magazine should appear on the shelf from January 2014 but unfortunately the September/October 2013 issue with Jennifer Lunden’s article won’t be included. However, once the magazine is in the library system and has been promoted on the library Facebook page I will post a link to the electronic version of the article. I am grateful that Orion has decided to make the article available to a wider number of readers by posting it online. I am also thankful that my library branch manager has been very supportive and welcomed my donation wholeheartedly.

  28. Betty, thanks for advocating for/donating an Orion subscription to your library! I’d be happy to mail you a copy of the current issue with Lunden’s breast cancer story in it if you think they’ll display it. Send your address to ehoffner

  29. Hi Erik, I would like to talk to the library branch manager first. It looks like that the library policy is to not to display magazines/books donated by a patron. The donation has to go through the library system. You may have a better chance to have the current issue being displayed if you mail it directly to the library. I will let you know.

  30. What you say is definitely relevant but you have left out the use of antibiotics, which cause a fungus to develop in the body, as cancer is likely to be a fungus. Also diet is most important, avoiding animal milks and products and sugar. It is interesting that sugar is the food for cancer cells and fungi. You also need a good immune system, which needs to be boosted if you have cancer. I have gone through all of this in a person’s history in my website. I am told it opens peoples’ eyes. The site is

  31. Dr. Kingley,
    Great input there, and from a lifelong diet/exercise/nutrition and prevention advocate I hear you!

    The work of Washington Toxics Coalition (WTC) is not towards those things already regulated by FDA, such as food and drugs. I am a strong critic of Big Pharma especially in mental health, vaccinations and cancer treatments.

    But, the reason WTC focuses on virtually unregulated chemicals pouring into our lives, the 84,000 of which only five previewed for human safety and of which 5,000 are carcinogen are something that the average person should not have to think about.

    We should have say over what we put in our bodies, first and foremost. A lot of resources such as yourself, educates people on the alternatives to medicines, treatments and therapies.

    Rich and educated people now about finding non-toxic products for their babies and homes, but WTC believes that all families at whatever economic level should not be poisoned in our homes where we are most vulnerable to exposure.

    That’s why WTC focused on getting the BPA out of baby and sports bottles successfully, and that spread from Washington state to the nation.

    There are so many good doctors like you who can help warn of adverse modern drugs and treatments.

    WTC wants to also prevent exposure to our unborn, kids, pets and families.

    We are in the state now about to pass I-522 (positive affirmation there). We have the right to know what is going in our bodies.

    We also have the right to choose what to put in our bodies in the first place.

    There are safe, economical alternatives. The chemical industry spends $100 million dollars to fight anti-toxic campaigns this year.

    We should mandate human environmental health impact studies before releasing these for-profit poisons, that should be enacted in law.

    As for antibiotics, I was fortunate to have my first born cared for by an elderly Japanese doctor in Honolulu the first year of her life. He taught me how to tend a fever and avoid use of NSAIDs. It was nerve wracking at first, but the tepid bath and moist towels and fan evaporated the temp. More doctors should help new parents with supportive care for sick offspring and to avoid the treadmill of antibiotics.

    “The Sugar Blues” was the first book in my life to warn of the dangers of especially white sugars, it’s really great information today – the sugar cane industry history hasn’t changed and in fact their poisonous product is now GMO poisoned!

  32. Dear Jennifer,
    you might want to reconsider your no more mammogram feeling and your recheck. I have had one of those “might be something” there scares too. As has my sister-in-law. the problem is hers was a real cancer within 10 years. she is only in her 40’s so don’t think you are immune. She had the treatment and is cancer-free now. I am 57 and have still not had anything else show up. But I have gotten the tests every year. there are so many more toxic chemicals that you should be worried about. Read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and walk down your street and count the flags of the people who spray their lawns with herbicides (5 times a year in Ohio). There are countless every day problems like that in the environment that you should really be worried about causing your breast cancer. I enjoyed your well-thought out article. Just wait 6 months to decide.

  33. I never really thought much about breast cancer. sure i wore pink alot on breast cancer awareness days but i never really new much about it. I acted as if i knew why i was wearing the pink. This article has given me that information, the data that really caught my eye was about how ionizing radiation actually increased the risk of breast cancer in women. One rad, or Radiation Absorbed Doses, of exposure increases the the probability of cancer by one percent. I cant believe that the procedures designed to save lives are also helping destroy them. i enjoyed reading this informative article

  34. Absolutely excellent, informative and disturbing article about the billion dollar industry that breast cancer is.
    I also choose breast thermal imaging and haven’t had a mammogram for many years now. If I feel the need to look at structural breast changes, I get an ultrasound, since that is simply radio waves and has no negative side effects.
    Women need to take their power back, educate themselves and choose what THEY want for their own bodies.

  35. Thank you- one of the best concise article that is evidenced based I have read. You are SOOO right. I am not using mamos, using ultrasounds but aware that they are also problematic as show many areas that may be benign so need to carefully evaluate with other tools if a problem shows.. But they don’t have rads..

    my daughter was diagnosed with ducal carcinoma in situ when she was 21.. no history in family, vegetarian, runner, healthy etc. We went to many 2nd opinions including Danna Farber and was yelled at for being a bad mother for not embracing the slash burn and poison plan- the most aggressive as she was just 21! Finally succumbed to their bullying and she had mastectomy, TC poison but refused the 10yr plan of tamoxifen.. They manipulated their statistics to “prove” how wonderful this all was. After 2 yrs where they INSISted she get mammograms – they found a small area of cancer in the same place the prior cancer and said it looks like it is the same tumor not a reoccurrence– well all their toxins didn’t kill it?? They now wanted to start all over again!! cut more, more chemo, and radiation burns… My daughter refused.. despite all the screaming.. and statistics, no more chemo…!
    Despite ongoing arguments that we don’t want mammograms- she is very dense breasts and they show NOTHING, they would not use just MRI’s for yearly screens.. insist that 3d is very accurate and non toxic- Major fight to get insurance coverage.. WE insist on alternative less toxic screening methods to monitor her cancer and determine if it is a real threat – not statistics but genetics, and they fight back…
    WE strongly believe that her cancer is environmental, live on farm near roundup ready soy and corn.. Monsanto! ENdrochrine disruptors everywhere INCLUDING the hospitals that she treats at- all products are on the EWG list of big toxins. WE are fighting back but DOCTORS are so incredibly ignorant of the preventive measures- hospitals are part of the cancer industry… THE BREAST FUND is leading the fight on prevention, please support them, they do not have connections with the cancer industry and collaborate with EWG and others who are evidence base not $$ and profit driven.

  36. After reading this very informative and extremely disturbing article, I am saddened to see that none of the comments from readers mention the option of Breast Thermal Imaging (thermography) as an excellent, accurate, no-contact, no-pain, no-radiation tool to monitor breast health. This technology can be utilized for ANY women over the age of 18, especially since breast cancer is occurring in younger and younger women (yes, due to our highly toxic society). Look up breast thermography on line, and you will find many websites and resources with lots of information!

  37. Well written and a thorough explanation. Thank you! It is really too bad that I followed the status quo for too many years. I journey on seeking quality of life as I could not come to peace with the cut, burn and pollute method of “treating cancer”. Spot on reduce the exposures to Chemicals. It is hard when you go into restrooms and they insist on filling the air with air fresheners; or when you live in the middle of Iowa with chemical agriculture all around you. Yet we must let the world know there is another way! I will not run nor walk for the cure. There are cures that are buried and crushed because they do not create money. Thank you so very much for standing up for the truth as you know it!!!

  38. Very thought provoking. It explains some of the response I have seen. Light pollution is growing at a rate of over 5% per year and os implicated in breast cancer and prostate cancer. I have tried to get cancer groups interested in this issue but they won’t go there. I think I know why. If we could prevent some cancers by turning off lights at night just think of lost sales in lights,mammograms,PSA tests , cancer drugs etc.

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