By Molly M. Ginty
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Suspicions that breast cancer could be caused by environmental pollution were once considered politically fringe. But in recent weeks, U.S. lawmakers, a presidential panel and the influential Susan G. Komen for the Cure have all signed on.
(WOMENSENEWS)--When she looks at her suburban street, Geri Barish sees cancer. She believes it's under her feet, in the soil that came from landfill and has been sprayed with pesticides. She believes it's overhead, in the electric transformers that hang from telephone poles on her quiet cul-de-sac.
"Pollution from these sources may explain the cancer that killed my mother, my son and too many of my neighbors," said Barish, of Hewlett, N.Y., a middle-income community at the heart of a dense cluster of cancer cases. "It may also explain why I've had to battle breast cancer three separate times myself."
Back in 1990, when Barish and some female neighbors founded the Long Island Breast Cancer Action Coalition, their goal--to raise awareness of the link between pollutants and high rates of cancer in their area--was considered politically fringe.
Twenty years down the line, presidential advisors, lawmakers and the largest breast cancer research group in the country are all simultaneously pulling the issue to the center of the political stage.
A big sign of this change will occur July 6-8, when Susan G. Komen for the Cure--the world's largest breast cancer organization--and the Institute of Medicine, a Washington-based health policy group, conduct a joint meeting in San Francisco on environmental toxins and breast cancer.
"The public is invited to observe our upcoming meeting, which will include presentations from leading breast cancer researchers and organizations," said Dr. Amelie Ramirez of Komen's scientific advisory board. "We believe this meeting is very important and expect it to generate much collaborative input."
In the advocacy realm, this represents something of a seismic shift by the Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which has long focused on breast cancer treatment, rather than prevention.
But on May 20, the group, which has invested nearly $1.5 billion to fight breast cancer since its inception in 1982, said it was devoting $1.25 million to a year-long Institute of Medicine study on cancer and the environment.
When asked why Komen launched this initiative, Elizabeth Thompson, a spokesperson for the organization, said that concern about carcinogens has "come to the point where we need all hands on deck."
"We're delighted and think it's about time," Barish replied in response.
Komen's partnership with the Institute of Medicine was announced shortly after the May 6 online publication of "Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk," a landmark report by the President's Cancer Panel. The report warns that carcinogens are causing "grievous harm" to Americans and that the number of cancer deaths related to pollution has been "grossly underestimated" due to a lack of sufficient research.
Formed in 1971 to monitor national cancer policy, the President's Cancer Panel has never before made such sweeping statements, instead focusing its previous reports on issues such as health disparities, barriers to care and cancer survivorship rates.
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