A transplanted Southern Californian living in North Dakota Idaho, with some insights on life with deaf dogs, a gluten free spouse, and the occasional mischievous garden gnome. Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Enough Already!!!

Sometimes this blog ain't gonna be funny, and instead serves as a soapbox for some rant of mine. This is one such entry, so if you don't want to hang with me on my soapbox, or were looking for some humor, I won't blame ya' if you don't read on.

Another caveat. Even though I'm pretty sure I'll get pilloried on this one, I just have to say something. But please, before you throw out expletives or call me names, read the whole thing, and some of the attached links as well, then make up your own mind.

This idea has been percolating in my mind for months now, but finally came to a head when I went to the grocery store this morning. I was picking up a few things and wanted to get some mushrooms for pizza we're going to have for dinner tonight, but I couldn't find the mushrooms in their normal blue container. It took me a minute to see that they were specially packaged in a pink container as part of raising money for Breast Cancer Month. That put me over the edge. What do mushrooms have to do with breast cancer?

My main issues towards this Breast Cancerization of America movement are that 1) the money raised for breast cancer would save more lives if it was directed toward the main killer of women in the US (heart disease) and 2) the Breast Cancer phenomenon has become a vehicle for corporate exploitation, greed, hypocrisy, and shameless advertisement.

Let me first say unequivocally that breast cancer is a terrible disease. Any cancer is terrible, and a cancer that results in having part of your body amputated (especially a part of your body that defines your self image and femininity) is unspeakably horrible. The people who have gone through this and had family members or loved ones die have suffered loss and pain from breast cancer, and my heart goes out to you. This is not to be minimized.

CDC statistics show that breast cancer killed 41,000 American women in 2005 (the most recent year statistics were available). Again this is 41,000 too many, but is slightly less than die by "accidents" and 10,000 fewer than die annually from Alzheimer's. Breast cancer is only the seventh leading killer of women in the United States, and isn't even the most deadly cancer, that dubious honor goes to lung cancer.

What if we reduced the number of breast cancer deaths by half, 50%? That would be a laudable, honorable goal, and would prevent the death of 20,000 American women. Anyone would be overjoyed with such an unbridled success. But what if we decided to reduce by half, 50%, the number of heart disease deaths of American women? We could prevent the death of 165,000 American women per year.

So what if we took some of the estimated tens of millions of dollars (no one knows how much is actually raised every year) raised for breast cancer and use it to reduce the number of American women who die from heart disease every year? Wouldn't that be a more effective use of money to save the lives of women in the US? Such a program would involve nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle change programs, especially for urban and poor women, who are disproportionately affected by heart disease. The problem with such a program? It's not so easy to raise money, and it's not so easy to make additional profits from such a program. It's just not as glamorous.

As far as my second criticism, that corporate America is using breast cancer as a vehicle for corporate exploitation, greed, hypocrisy, and advertisement - please check out this article - Pink Ribbon Overkill: Are companies exploiting breast cancer campaigns? This goes a long way in describing the current state of various corporate manipulation surrounding the pink ribbon campaign and the current practice of "pinkwashing" by nefarious companies.

The mushrooms that I purchased are a great example of these corporate shenanigans. The company that is selling me the mushrooms didn't even give any money to any charity related to breast cancer. In a tiny stamp on the label there's a statement that says "The Mushroom Council donated $50,000 to the City of Hope to fight breast cancer". The Mushroom Councils own figures state that mushroom producers (farmers?) sold 14 million pounds of mushrooms over the last MONTH and 188 million pounds over the last year, (and you know how much mushrooms cost per pound), and yet the mushroom producing contingent in the US could only come up with $50,000 to donate to such an allegedly important cause? I call BS on that.

The truth is the folks I bought these mushrooms from know that they don't have to contribute a penny of their own money to charity (though surely they pay dues of some kind to the mighty Mushroom Council), but all they have to do is slap their product in a pink box for a few months, add some vague promises about "fighting for the cure" and know that people will buy it. Again, I vehemently call BS on that.

Could future breast cancer cases be reduced or eliminated if instead of donating a pittance of a few dollars, companies stopped using known carcinogens in producing their products? Studies have shown a link between breast cancer and environmental pollution, and more research is needed on this topic, but couldn't companies be proactive and eliminate the KNOWN carcinogens from common use. Wouldn't that be a heck of a gift?

Did you know that AstraZeneca, the producer of breast cancer fighting drugs Arimidex and Faslodex, is also related to a giant international manufacturer of industrial chemicals and carcinogenic pesticides? Their former parent company (they spun off Astra in 1993) Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) manufactures the plastic ingredient polyvinyl chloride, that has been linked to breast cancer, as well as the pesticide acetochlor, classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a “probably human carcinogen.”

ICI also makes pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. ICI releases potential cancer-causing pollution into the environment on a daily basis from its global manufacturing facilities. Does that make sense to you? Wouldn't a better contribution from AstraZeneca towards eliminating breast cancer be to lobby their former parent company, ICI, to stop releasing all these toxins and selling all these toxic products into the world?

So that's my rant. Again, please don't misinterpret this as a lack of respect for those who've lost friends and loved ones to breast cancer, or a lack of reverence towards survivors of breast cancer. I just feel that a greater degree of death prevention could be gained if we focused more attention and money on heart disease in American women, and I wanted a chance to vent my anger at companies who have hopped on the breast cancer bandwagon in order to boost their sales. That is despicable, and unfortunately, quite widespread.


sara said...

Know what? I really liked this post. I think you brought to light some great data and observations that are so often left behind in the "let's be pink" craze. Like you, I support the Pink, but I also agree that there are bigger killers in this country that are practically ignored by most. Job well done, John.

Bill said...

The idea would be to help raise breast cancer awareness, not necessarily research. While the stats you cite are true, breast cancer is still the #1"preventable" cause of death in women. Preventable in this sense means that the medical community actually has a chance of early preventative treatment. Heart disease and lung cancer are not lumped in this category as it is "unrealistic" to stop people from overeating and smoking.
On a side note, the first line breast cancer treatment is a natural product derived from the yew tree-a natural extraction with no chemical byproducts.