Breast cancer is caused by a genetic abnormality, a “mistake”
in genetic material. But usually, not an inherited mistake, meaning not
something in the genes you got from your parents. Inheritance accounts
for perhaps just 5 percent of the breast cancers. Most breast cancers
are caused by genetic abnormalities triggered by environmental influences
placing stress upon genes, causing them to malfunction.
Normal cells have a finite lifespan - they divide many times, do what they
are supposed to, and then die by committing cell suicide (apoptosis).
Cancerous cells have mutated and do not follow the rulebook. They don’t
die; they divide endlessly and wander where they are not supposed to go.
They are uniquely adapted to thrive in today’s high-sugar diet and
acidic internal environment.
When cells divide, their DNA is normally copied with mistakes. Nature handles
this by supplying proteins to fix those mistakes. The mutations that cause
cancer disable the fail-safe mechanism of the proteins.
he overwhelming majority of breast cancers are “Ductal Carcinoma
in Situ,” or DCIS. Abnormal cells grow inside the milk ducts. A
lump in the breast is usually this kind of cancer. In the majority of
cases, tumors in the breast grow slowly. By the time a lump is large enough
to feel, it may have been growing for 10 years. This is why thermography,
which can detect suspicions of cancer formation 10 years earlier than
mammography, is a superior tool for early detection. Also,
thermography is safer because it does not use cancer-causing radiation or painful compression.
Invasive breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells from inside the sacs
that produce milk (lobules), or abnormal cells from the milk ducts break
out into nearby breast tissue. Cancer cells then spread to the lymph nodes
and, in advanced stages, to organs like the liver, lungs, and bones. The
process of spreading is called metastasis.
Inflammatory breast cancer is the rarest form; it is an estimated 2 percent
to 5 percent of cases. This type of cancer does not produce a lump. Instead,
cancer cells infiltrate the skin and lymph vessels of the breast. When
the lymph vessels become blocked by the breast cancer cells, the breast
typically becomes red, swollen, and warm. This type of breast cancer often
breaks out through the skin, looking like angry cauliflower. Typically,
it grows fast and requires aggressive treatment.
The reason you hear so much about early detection is that the survival
rates are much, much better for cancers that have not metastasized.
At the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine, we feel the best course of
treatment in most cases is
Insulin Potentiation Therapy (IPT). It is a smart way to approach cancer based on what makes cancer
cells vulnerable - sugar.
With IPT, we combine insulin and sugar water (glucose) with a very low
dose of chemotherapy. The cancer cells, always ravenous for sugar, take
in the drugs along with the glucose. It is as if we ambush just the cancer
cells. They don’t see the chemo coming. They take it in along with
the sugar they so desperately crave. Healthy cells are not ambushed. It
is a targeted approach.
Patients undergoing IPT typically do not go bald, do not have damaged livers
and digestive tracts, and do not experience “chemo brain”
for a year after treatment has stopped. We feel that IPT offers a much
higher quality of life while undergoing treatment, and prospects for a
long life after treatment, compared to conventional, full-dose chemotherapy
Disturbed by the profligate use of synthetic chemical pesticides after
World War II, Rachel Carson wrote the landmark environmental book Silent
Spring in 1962. She reminded us that we are a vulnerable part of the natural
world, subject to the same damage as the rest of the ecosystem. Carson
died of breast cancer in 1964.
Breast cancer incidence rates in the United States increased by more than
40 percent since 1973. Experts point out that this parallels the rise
in chemicals in our environment, and the decrease in the quality of our
diets. Given that cancer takes a decade or two or three to manifest -
it takes time for genes to mutate and overwhelm the immune system - this
suggests that the post-WWII increase in chemical exposures and processed
food came with a price tag we did not initially recognize: cancer.
A vast number of animal, human, laboratory and field studies, dating from
the 1930s, continue to provide incontrovertible evidence for the role
of man-made environmental agents in human diseases such as breast cancer.
These are agents that can be reduced, modified or eliminated. According
to a 2009 report in the
International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.
“A substantial body of scientific evidence indicates that exposures
to common chemicals and radiation, alone and in combination, are contributing
to the increase in breast cancer incidence observed over the past several
decades. ... A review of the scientific literature shows several classes
of environmental factors have been implicated in an increased risk for
breast cancer, including hormones and endocrine-disrupting compounds,
organic chemicals and by-products of industrial and vehicular combustion,
and both ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.”
Preventive surgery is an extreme measure. Not a whisper about learning
of environmental toxicity. And the recommendation for tamoxifen meets
with dropped jaws in some quarters. Consider Dr. Sherry Selman’s comments:
“Despite tamoxifen’s supposed ability to reduce recurrence
in postmenopausal women, major studies have shown that tamoxifen reduces
death from breast cancer only marginally. The majority of women who take
tamoxifen live no longer than women who refuse it. It is with great alarm
that researchers are finding that some breast cancers actually learn how
to use tamoxifen to stimulate their growth ... In September 2000,
The Lancet reported a study which showed that the drug tamoxifen increased the risk
of developing endometrial cancer.”
Suzanne Somers’ 2009 book about cancer entitled “KNOCKOUT”
quickly became a best seller. She was attacked by
Newsweek Magazine and others, but the public welcomed her like a breath of fresh air. Many
people agree with her message about curing cancer:
“The present template of medicine is not working... the public needs
to know there are real alternatives to chemo, radiation and surgery, and
that a world without cancer is possible today. You have options.”
When you look at the array of organizations that concern themselves with
cancer, you see a lot of emphasis on “awareness” and “finding
the cure.” For example, the National Breast Cancer Foundation says
its mission “is to save lives by increasing awareness of breast
cancer through education and by providing mammograms for those in need.
The best way to fight breast cancer is to have a plan that helps you detect
the disease in its early stages.”
So, “fighting breast cancer” has nothing to do with prevention.
It’s all about early detection. And that would be a money-making
annual mammogram with an annual blast of cancer-causing radiation.
“Awareness of breast cancer”: We are awash in pink ribbons
every fall. Is anyone not aware breast cancer is a problem?
“Through education”: That means an explanation of the signs,
symptoms, and stages of breast cancer, according to their website. This
is merely cancer 101, textbook information about the mechanics of cancer.
There is nothing about how to prevent breast cancer, almost nothing about
the environmental connection.
“Providing mammograms”: The only cause of cancer officially
recognized by the American Cancer Society is radiation - the same type
of radiation ACS, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and the Susan
G. Komen organization recommend women expose themselves to in annual mammograms.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure® calls itself “the global leader
of the breast cancer movement, having invested nearly $1.5 billion since
inception in 1982.” In 28 years, it has not found anything close
to a cure. Many feel they are looking in the wrong place.
“We have become the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to
the fight against breast cancer in the world,” Komen proclaims on
Fight? We don’t need to
fight breast cancer. We need to
stop it, and we can if we educate about the carcinogenic chemicals in
cosmetics, in household furnishings and cleaners, in our cars, in the pesticides
we use around every building, in the PAHs created in fried foods, etc.
But wait a minute, SGK endorses PAHs. In the Spring of 2010, Komen teamed
up with Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) to sell pink buckets of grilled and
Original Recipe fried chicken. Komen got 50 cents for every pink bucket sold.
When foods are overheated, as is the case with fried chicken, carcinogenic
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed. Some grilled chicken
products may also contain a dangerous carcinogenic compound called PhIP.
In 2009, a report by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
found “PhIP, a chemical classified as a carcinogen” and related
to “heterocyclic amines (HCAs), has been linked to several forms
of cancer, including breast cancer, in dozens of scientific studies. No
safe level of ingestion has been identified. Every sample [of KFC’s
Grilled Chicken] also tested positive for at least one additional type
Another study done in conjunction with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
reported in 2010 that exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
as a young adult appears to increase breast cancer risk. So how does it
make sense to campaign against breast cancer with a food that promotes
Andrea Raider, SGK’s director of marketing and communications, admits
that the charity received some e-mail messages criticizing the KFC promotion.
“But for the most part, reaction in the general public has been
positive,” she said. One of Komen’s motivations for doing
the promotion is that it allows the charity to get its message to women
in neighborhoods it normally doesn’t reach, Raider said, and 900
hundred of KFC’s 5000 fast-food restaurants are in cities or towns
where the charity does not have an affiliate.
The KFC pink buckets bear the names of breast-cancer survivors and other
women who died from the disease. That is the extent of the “education
campaign” to women who, according to Raider, somehow managed not
to hear that breast cancer is a problem. And did we mention that the lids
on these chicken buckets solicited donations for Komen?
“It’s like … Smith & Wesson funding a rifle range
at Columbine High School,” wrote Joe Waters, director of cause marketing
at Boston Medical Center in his blog,
Selfish Giving. “With 2,400 calories and 160 grams of fat, a bucket of extra-crispy
KFC should include the wig you’ll need for cancer treatments after
eating this crap for years.”
Follow the Money
KFC is not the only corporate sponsorship embraced by Komen. M&M candies
went pink in 2009. Dove chocolates and Pepperidge Farm are among the 2010
corporate sponsors. Remember what makes cancer cells unique? Their intense
need for sugar. So why is a breast cancer organization teaming up with
those who encourage us to eat more refined sugar? It makes no sense if
the mission is to reduce the incidence of cancer.
“Junk food” purveyors have deep pockets. Pepsi is financing
a program in obesity studies at Yale, McDonald’s is a long-term
sponsor of the Olympics. The ACS, Komen, and others may never “find
a cure,” but their administrative structure will continue on and
on, funded by those who buy the appearance of being good corporate citizens
while building market share.
One in 2 men and 1 in 3 women are expected to get cancer in their lifetimes.
How much worse does it have to get until Komen starts using its clout
for stopping cancer?
We didn’t “fight” lung cancer. We insisted that the vested
interests selling cigarettes finally tell the truth after 20-plus years
of denial. We exposed the memos that covered up the dangers. We educated
people about the harm of smoking so they would stop. We put warning labels
on the cigarette packages. We stopped letting cigarettes be advertised
on TV. We limited where cigarettes could be smoked in public. Because
of all that, the incidence of lung cancer fell.
Taking on “Big Tobacco” was a huge undertaking. On behalf of
cancer, one would need to take on “Big Food,” “Big Pharma,”
the powerful chemical industry, and maybe the telecommunications industry.
That’s a tall order. No wonder so many people wanted to hear what
Suzanne Somers had to say about standing up to the cancer establishment.
Not all organizations follow the money. The
Breast Cancer Fund, for example, is much in the forefront of reducing breast cancer. Their
stated mission: “To expose and eliminate the environmental causes
of cancer. We can stop this disease before it starts.” Yes we can.
Kudos for staying on message and on task. It has not been easy. The article
that follows gives a revealing behind-the-scenes look at why we hear so
much about Komen and so little about the efforts of groups like the Breast
Media ignore environmental connections to breast cancer
Breast cancer is now epidemic, affecting one in eight women, according
to the American Cancer Society and others. The leading cause of death
in women in their late 30s to early 50s, it’s estimated to have
killed 40,000 people in 2008.
A growing body of private, university and government environmental health
research on animals and human populations is implicating the chemicals
and radiation to which women are unwittingly exposed every day. The suspects
include scores of toxic and hormone-disrupting substances that are listed
as known, probable or possible carcinogens-and thousands of others that
(in the U.S., at least) remain untested for their safety. Among others,
they include pesticides, plastics, consumer-product additives and industrial
Moreover, science is finding the causes of breast (and other) cancers are
complex and multi-factored, and the timing and pattern of chemical exposure
are proving as important as dose. While these findings, focused on causes
and prevention, are relatively new and few compared with much better-funded
work on detection and treatment, they merit further research and a place
in the headlines.
Unfortunately, Extra! has found, the major media have downplayed and frequently
overlooked this evidence.
Tracking the coverage
To track the extent of coverage of environmental factors in breast cancer
causation, Extra! used the Nexis database to examine a sample of the largest,
most influential news outlets-those with big enough budgets to do regular
science, health and environmental reporting. We studied four newspapers (USA Today, the
New York Times, Los Angeles Times and
Washington Post), three newsweeklies (Newsweek, Time, and
U.S. News & World Report) and four TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN) from 2002 through 2008,
reviewing coverage of environmental factors in breast cancer during an
annual event, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month-October-in each of
the seven years. Since its inception in 1985, this pageant of pink has
brought special prominence to the disease. While the month has been criticized
by some as an exercise in corporate self-promotion, it does provide a
predictable news hook and an ideal time to draw on recent findings to
add cause and prevention to the standard mix of items on cancer rates
and risks, detection and treatment.
Extra! also looked for coverage of two major scientific metastudies that aggregated
numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies on the environment/breast cancer
State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment, a summary and explanation of external scientific research plus policy
and research recommendations. First released in 2002 and updated in 2003,
2004, 2006 and 2008 to include new research findings, the latest edition
synthesizes the results of more than 400 studies, runs 147 pages long
with 667 references, and was vetted by five independent experts. It is
published by the Breast Cancer Fund, a national nonprofit focused on environmental
and other preventable causes of the disease, and Breast Cancer Action,
a membership organization that “challenges assumptions and inspires
change to end the breast cancer epidemic.”
A veritable catalog of environmental villains, the ’08 edition explains
that the latest data “show that we need to begin to think of breast
cancer causation as a . . . web of often interconnected factors, each
exerting direct and interactive effects on cellular processes on mammary
tissue,” and points to growing evidence that “exposure of
fetuses, young children and adolescents to radiation and environmental
chemicals [notably the pesticide DDT] puts them at considerably higher
risk for breast cancer in later life.” Though disturbing, the report’s
underlying message is hopeful: “By decreasing exposures to carcinogens
. . . we may continue to lower breast cancer levels-and actually prevent
the devastating disease-in the future.”
Environmental Pollutants and Breast Cancer: Epidemiological Studies, a review of hundreds of existing studies and databases that identified
some 216 chemicals that induce mammary tumors in animals. Compiled by
researchers at the Silent Spring Institute, a nonprofit scientific research
institute that studies links between the environment and women’s
health, and three other institutions, including Harvard Medical School,
the report was published in May 2007 as a special supplement in Cancer,
the journal of the venerable American Cancer Society.
Stating that “laboratory research provides evidence that environmental
pollutants may contribute to breast cancer risk by damaging DNA, promoting
tumor growth or increasing susceptibility by altering mammary gland development,”
the report cautions: “These compounds are widely detected in human
tissues and in environments, such as homes, where women spend time.”
Among other things, the paper found that the relative risks associated
with PAHs (largely from car exhaust) and PCBs were “comparable in
magnitude” to many breast cancer risk factors that have received
more attention, such as age at first full-term pregnancy and inactivity.
The good news: “If these mechanisms similarly affect humans, reducing
or eliminating chemical exposures could have substantial public health
The coverage: nearly nil
At no time since the
State of the Evidence report began publication in 2002 did any of the major media examined cover
or even refer to it. Similarly, none covered the
Cancer special report with the notable exception of the
Los Angeles Times, which published a thorough, nuanced, straightforward front-page article
of nearly 1,500 words by award-winning environmental reporter Marla Cone (“Common Chemicals Are Linked to Breast Cancer,” 5/14/07).
Times seemed to back off Cone’s story a week later, publishing “A
Closer Look: Chemicals and Breast Cancer” (5/21/07), a special report by Mary Beckman in the Health section that appeared
intended not so much to debunk Cone’s article as to reassure a frightened
public. Subheaded “Suspects, but not all perps; a report has linked
chemicals to tumors in animals. But the risks to women are less clear,”
it stated that the report’s findings do “not mean women should
stop cooking with canola or cower indoors for fear of getting breast cancer,
Stories about or even mentioning breast cancer’s environmental connections
during Breast Cancer Awareness Month were extremely few. Over the seven
Octobers examined, only four articles (Washington Post, 10/23/02, 10/9/07;
L.A. Times, 10/9/02 and 10/6/03), an isolated photo and caption (L.A. Times, 10/24/02) and portions of three TV news segments (ABC’s Good Morning
America, 10/27/08; CBS’s Early Show, 10/4/06; NBC’s Today,
10/6/05) considered those connections, including the disease’s cause
and prevention. There were three brief items (CNN, 10/18/04;
L.A. Times, 10/19/04; NBC, 10/24/04) about the federal Sister Study, which is looking
at the environmental and genetic factors in the sisters of women with
breast cancer; CNN also made passing mentions in four segments over the
USA Today made two and NBC one (most of these pieces were about topics other than
Though substantial and informative, both
Post pieces and one of the
L.A. Times‘ had a note of blaming the victim. The
Post’s 2002 article on exceptionally high breast cancer rates in wealthy Marin
County, California, noted that “experts say women here are most
likely vulnerable because of something in the county’s lifestyle,
rather than in its water,” assigning the cluster most likely to
Post’s 2007 article reported on findings that childhood exposure to DDT was associated
with a fivefold increase in breast cancer risk in adulthood-but “balanced”
this possibly lifesaving news with concerns that further restrictions
on the pesticide may hobble the fight against malaria. (See Extra!,
L.A. Times story (10/6/03) on California’s search for the causes of breast
and other cancers through “biomonitoring”-measuring toxins
in the human body-gave credence to the risks posed by chemicals such as
flame retardants in breast milk, but devoted about a third of the 2,000-plus-word
piece to concerns that the findings might scare moms away from breastfeeding
ABC, to its credit, had a long segment on breast doctor Susan Love’s
“Army of Women” campaign to recruit women for human trials
to look at breast cancer’s causes-including environmental ones.
CBS and NBC’s segments-mainly on other aspects of the disease-inquired
about environmental connections, but in both cases the physicians the
networks chose to interview downplayed them.
Notably absent was any coverage in the
New York Times or any of the newsweeklies.
Time did have a lengthy cover story on breast cancer’s increase in developing
nations (10/15/07)-but when it suggested that adoption of “U.S.
and European lifestyles” may be behind it, the magazine pointed
the finger only at things like diet and “reproductive habits,”
sidestepping the issue of American-style increases in pollution and chemical use.
New York Times‘ lack of coverage shouldn’t be surprising, considering the
historical skepticism of Times science reporter Gina Kolata. In a 1998
article in the
Nation (7/6/98), environmental journalist Mark Dowie took a critical look at the
Times‘ science reporting, singling out Kolata’s many years of work
on controversial topics connecting the environment and health, including
breast cancer. As he told the journal
Wild Duck Review (4/99), her environmental reporting has taken “a hard, pro-technology,
pro-corporate line,” noting that Kolata “took a strong position
that breast cancer has no environmental etiology at all.”
In a companion video for her article headlined “Environment and Cancer:
The Links Are Elusive” (12/13/05), Kolata stated, “There are
people who say that there may be cancers caused by things in the environment,
but it’s a very small percentage of them, and the importance of
them in the public’s mind has been exaggerated.” She later
added, “One answer people don’t want to hear is it’s
random bad luck.”
The dearth of media coverage was particularly perplexing in October 2008,
when the major media missed a perfect news peg: On October 8, George W.
Bush signed the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act, under which
Congress funded the establishment of multidisciplinary research centers
to study the potential links between the environment and breast cancer.
However, the influential outlets did make time and space for such news
as an item on breast cancer survivors getting beauty make-overs (NBC Today,
10/15/08) and an explanation (NBC Today, 10/13/08) of how “you can
shop for a cure. When you buy everything from pink jump ropes to golf
clubs, you can stay fit while fighting breast cancer all at the same time.”
Same old story
Evolving research discoveries may make theories about breast and other
cancers more robust over time, but the dearth of coverage of breast cancer’s
environmental links seems to have changed little since before 2001. That
year, Brown University sociologist Phil Brown and colleagues published
their study Print Media Coverage of Environmental Causation of Breast
Cancer. The researchers looked at 40 years (1961-2001) of coverage of
breast cancer in two major papers, the three major newsweeklies, four
popular science magazines and eight women’s magazines, and found
that only 12 percent of science magazines, 10 percent of women’s
magazines, 5 percent of newspapers and less than 5 percent of newsweeklies
ever mentioned possible environmental causation, focusing mostly on an
individual’s personal responsibility for avoiding the disease.
When it comes to breast cancer, why is it so hard to get the most influential
media to pay attention to the possibility that, in addition to better-understood
risks, unnatural substances entering women’s bodies might also be a factor?
“It wasn’t for lack of trying,” said Shannon Coughlin,
communications director for the Breast Cancer Fund. According to Coughlin,
major mainstream reporters seem to hold environmental health science findings
to an especially high standard of proof. “Chemical regulation goes
by the idea that a chemical is innocent until proven guilty, which places
a terrible burden on us to prove harm,” she said.
Environmental health research is less certain by definition, added Julia
Brody, executive director of the Silent Spring Institute and lead author
of the Cancer report: “The standard breast cancer risks [e.g., reproductive
history and diet] are things we can ask people about,” whereas “people
don’t know what’s in their drinking water and in their air.”
Thus journalists “say there’s no smoking gun,” Jeanne
Rizzo, the Breast Cancer Fund’s executive director, told
Extra!. “If there’s no sensational direct cause and effect, they’re
She added: “We need to change the conversation to see the interconnectedness
of things. The media need to be willing to go out on a limb and talk about
Silent Spring’s Brody noted that even her institute’s hometown
Boston Globe, passed on the Environmental Pollutants story: “They said, 'There’s
no proof.’ We say, 'We don’t think we’ll find proof;
we think we need to act on the weight of the evidence as it evolves.’
. . . We waited too long on tobacco smoke, we waited too long on lead.”
Rizzo pointed to the Women’s Health Initiative study, which found
a direct connection between artificial hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
and breast cancer (Extra!, 9-10/02). “We should have learned from HRT that when you remove
an endocrine-disrupting chemical from women, we get less breast cancer,”
she said. “We need to extrapolate from that-what other exposures
are similar that we should study? It’s not rocket science.”
She added that because that health study was government-issued, “the
media jumped all over it.”
Consider the source
Indeed, science news-and spokespeople-with the imprimatur of large, establishmentarian
organizations are taken more seriously, said retired journalist Arlie
Schardt, founder of Environmental Media Services, a nonprofit communications
organization that until 2005 helped lesser-known scientists gain media
coverage. Schardt explained that for efficiency’s sake, reporters
tend to turn for sources to “the usual suspects,” who reflect
“traditional viewpoints,” particularly when seeking feedback
and “balance” on the validity of emerging science.
This fallback position may be due to the general “lack of knowledge”
of environmental health science on the part of reporters and editors,
according to former
L.A. Times reporter Marla Cone, who is now editor-in-chief of
Environmental Health News. She noted that breast cancer is typically the beat of medical reporters,
who tend to interview physicians-and neither these reporters nor their
sources are “accustomed to looking at this type of data.”
Schardt, a former
Newsweek editor and later Al Gore’s press secretary, has found that scientists
tend to be very cautious when pressed by reporters to make “definitive
claims” about research findings. Not wanting to seem like advocates,
they “cloak their quotes with a lot of qualifications,” reinforcing
the uncertainty or controversy of newer scientific ideas in the resulting
Rizzo noted, “Reporters sometimes imply to us that our science isn’t
valid because we have a perspective. But so does the American Cancer Society.”
Then there is what Brody calls “the connection between this field
of science and the consumer economy.” Magazines, TV and newspapers
all depend on advertising from companies that “produce the compounds
targeted in our studies,” she pointed out.
Schardt puts it more bluntly: “Scientists are always attacked by
industries with a stake” in the science. In his experience, “They’ll
pull out all the stops to discredit the source.” That makes journalists
more likely to shy away.
And there is something at stake: corporate power. Breast cancer activists
not only want more research dollars devoted to environmental causes, they
endorse strengthening consumer protection laws to ensure the safety of
the chemicals in question, as is now taking place in Europe under the
2007 REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of
Or as Cone, who observes that possible environmental angles are typically
left out of reporting on the many other forms of cancer, puts it: “There
is such a wealth of data on chemical exposures and their relationship
to disease. . . . It should be brought up in every story.”
Miranda C. Spencer is a freelance journalist, editor and media critic based
in Philadelphia. A longtime contributor to
Extra!, she blogs on women, media and the environment for
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons License.
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