Breast cancer has become one of the most visible and well-publicized diseases. That’s a good thing, since nearly a quarter of a million women will be diagnosed in 2014.

However, despite three decades of attention, breast cancer, "remains a public health crisis and a social justice issue," according to Breast Cancer Action. "This focus [on awareness] fails to address the systemic issue at the heart of this epidemic, instead of emphasizing individual risk and individual solutions."

Every October, we are awash in pink ribbons and fundraising events, and subjected to marketing of “pink” products. While awareness of the threat of breast cancer is important, if you want to advance the cause of finding a cure for—or, better yet, preventing—breast cancer—here are a few action items to consider:

  1. Research Products That Promise to Support Breast Cancer Before Purchasing. The Better Business Bureau cautions consumers to be aware of "pinkwashing," the promise to donate a portion of sales to breast cancer research. Businesses can use the pink ribbon to market products with no accountability to consumers or any governing organizations. Before purchasing, ask businesses what percent of sales will be donated, to which charity, and how the money will be used for breast cancer prevention, detection, or treatment efforts.

    Alternatively, you can donate time or money directly to charities that demonstrably use funds towards disease eradication and prevention. The non-profit CharityNavigator website offers tips for evaluating cause-related products and helps donors assess charities.
  2. Advocate With Your Wallet. Some household items contain chemicals linked to cancer. Personal care and cleaning products, for example, contain plastics that can release "toxic chemicals when heated, worn, or put under pressure," according to the Breast Cancer Fund. The chemicals include phthalates (which make plastics more pliable), bisphenol A (BPA), vinyl chloride, and styrene.

    "These chemicals are endocrine disrupters, which may increase the incidence of breast cancer and may also reduce the effectiveness of treatment," says Rajiv V. Datta, MD, FACS, FRCS, Medical Director of the Cancer Center at South Nassau Hospital. "Chemicals are present ubiquitously [everywhere] and therefore no unexposed controls exist. These agents deserve our attention."
  3. Become Educated About Your Options. Most breast cancer awareness activities encourage early detection, particularly through annual mammograms. However, a recent review of 30 years of screening mammograms on breast cancer incidence published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the detection of early stage breast cancers did not lead to a reduction in the number of late stage breast cancers found, meaning some of these early-stage breast cancers would never have grown or caused a threat. It seems that the overall decrease of deaths from breast cancer is due primarily to improved treatments, not screening.

    Screening mammograms absolutely benefit for some women. They also can cause harm, since not all cancers progress, and cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery carry risks and can cause significant side effects. This is why H. Gilbert Welch, MD, MPH, professor of Medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Research, says mammograms are a personal decision. Talk to your physician about your risk factors and decide what is best for you.

Rajiv V. Datta, MD, FACS, FRCS, reviewed this article.


Rajiv V. Datta, MD, FACS, FRCS, Medical Director, Cancer Center, South Nassau Hospital. Email message to author, September 28, 2014.

"Think Before You Pink." Breast Cancer Action. Accessed September 17, 2014.

"What Are Pink Ribbons Hiding." Breast Cancer Action. Accessed September 17, 2014.

"How You Can Help." National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Accessed September 17, 2014.

"BBB Warns of ‘Pinkwashing’ Scams During Breast Cancer Awareness Month." October 09, 2013. Accessed September 17, 2014. 

"National Breast Cancer Month Reveals New Scam 'Pinkwashing', Better Business Bureau Alerts Donors & Charities." Better Business Bureau. October 24, 2013.

"Breast Cancer." National Cancer Institute. Accessed September 17, 2014. Http://Www.Cancer.Gov/Cancertopics/Types/Breast

Cork Gaines. "A Shockingly Small Amount Of Money From Pink NFL Merchandise Sales Goes To Breast Cancer Research." October 15, 2013. Accessed September 17, 2014. 

Peggy Orenstein. "Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer." April 25, 2013. Accessed September 17, 2014. 

Archie Bleyer, MD, and H. Gilbert Welch, MD, MPH. "Effect of Three Decades of Screening Mammography on Breast-Cancer Incidence." New England Journal of Medicine 367 (2012): 1998-2005, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1206809. 

CharityNavigator. Accessed September 17, 2014.  

"Should You Buy That Charity Affiliated Product?" Accessed September 17, 2014. 

"Chemicals in Plastics." Breast Cancer Fund. Accessed September 17, 2014. 

"Endocrine-disrupting Compounds." Breast Cancer Fund. Accessed September 17, 2014.