In 1990, a group of women living with breast cancer in the San Francisco Bay Area were seeking information about the causes and treatment of their disease. They encountered unresponsive government agencies and private organizations that provided inadequate, superficial information—not the evidence-based data they were looking for. They got angry and turned that anger into action by forming Breast Cancer Action.
The first meeting was held in founder Elenore Pred’s living room. “We are meeting to organize Breast Cancer Action,” the flyer for the meeting announced. “Our goals are education and political action to prevent a further rise in breast cancer.” One of the group’s first acts was a meeting with the director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to demand that the agency address the breast cancer epidemic. Founding members Elenore Pred, Susan Claymon, Belle Shayer, and Linda Reyes attended this meeting along with other breast cancer activists. Later, following the death of Elenore Pred, Susan Claymon became the first breast cancer activist to address the President’s Cancer Panel in Washington, D.C.
The actions of these founding women framed breast cancer not as an individual problem but as a public health crisis requiring systemic solutions, with an emphasis on empowering women living with and at risk of the disease.
In the years following, the organization grew in size and influence. In 2008, Breast Cancer Action fine-tuned its priorities, creating a Strategic Plan that focused attention on three areas:
- Putting patients before profits in FDA advocacy and breast cancer screening
- Creating healthy environments
- Ending inequities in breast cancer—political, economic, and racial—that lead to health disparities in health outcomes
In March 2011, Karuna Jaggar transitioned into the role of executive director of Breast Cancer Action, and her vision for the future is at the heart of our five year strategic plan adopted in spring 2014. Under her leadership, Breast Cancer Action remains a feminist grassroots organization committed to social justice, standing at the forefront of breast cancer activism, and known nationally as the watchdog of the breast cancer movement.
Working to End Gene Patents: Breast Cancer Action opposes human gene patenting and believe it’s wrong for one company to have the power to dictate all scientific and medical uses of genes that each of us has in our bodies.
- On April 15th, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in our landmark case challenging Myriad Genetics’ patents on the human “breast cancer” genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2.
- Hosted a rally outside of the Supreme Court joined by 50 activists from 14 states
- On June 13th, the Supreme Court ruled to strike down Myriad Genetics’ patents on the human “breast cancer” genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2—and not just Myriad’s patents, but patents on all human genes.
Think Before You Pink® – For eleven years, Breast Cancer Action has been demanding transparency and accountability from companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising.
- Toxic Time is Up: In the 2013 Think Before You Pink campaign, BCAction demanded legislators pass the strongest toxic chemical regulation to protect us from chemicals linked to health harms, including breast cancer.
- Delivered nearly 32,000 petition signatures to Senat or Barbara Boxer’s office demanding strong, meaningful chemical policy reform.
- Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Canadian documentary, featuring BCAction that offers a thorough analysis of pink ribbons and breast cancer cause marketing campaigns.
- Staff, board, members and Community Leaders hosted screenings, facilitated discussions and answered questions at 24 screenings of the film across the country.
- Pink Ribbons Plate: AB49 is a bill introduced by California Assembly member Joan Buchanan that seeks to introduce a breast cancer awareness license plate program for the state of California.
- Sent a letter expressing our concern over the language on the proposed pink ribbon license plate, “early detection saves lives” that is misleading to many women and factually inaccurate.
- Over 250 members in California demanded that the bill be changed to better address the needs of women living with and at risk of breast cancer.
- Safe Chemicals Act Advocacy: In July, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing to consider the future of toxic chemical regulation.
- Breast Cancer Action was among the first organizations to take a public stand against the weak chemical reform bill, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA)
- Over 2,000 BCAction members sent letters to encourage their senators to support the strongest chemical reform legislation when it comes to the full Senate to protect public health and the environment.
- Anti-Fracking: BCAction opposes hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” because the practice exposes people to endocrine disruptors and carcinogenic chemicals that are linked to breast cancer.
- In December 2012, we became a founding member of Americans Against Fracking coalition which addresses fracking nation-wide and joined two new anti-fracking coalitions, Stop the Frack Attack Coalition and Californian’s Against Fracking Coalition.
- In collaboration with the Americans Against Fracking coalition, we delivered 1 million comments to President Obama’s Bureau of Land Management rejecting fracking on public lands.
Community Leaders for Change (formerly the Speakers Bureau): This program collaboratively educates, empowers and activates community leaders across the country and supports their efforts to develop and implement grassroots advocacy to affect change in the breast cancer epidemic.
- Twenty-six women, supported and trained by Breast Cancer Action, serve as leaders in their community facilitating discussions and providing education and outreach at health/community fairs, house parties and other community events.
- Since the program’s inception, speakers have organized and participated in nearly 40 community events all across the country.
FDA Advocacy: BCAction supported the approval of the first FDA-approved drug for the neo-adjuvant (before surgery) treatment of breast cancer, Pertuzumab, trade name Perjeta. Data shows (in the metastatic setting) that this drug improves overall survival and has low toxicity.
BCAction Fact Sheets Provide Concise, Science-Based Information: BCAction’s factsheets deliver a critical analysis of important breast cancer advocacy topics that challenge assumptions about the disease and inspire change to address and end this breast cancer epidemic.
- Added three brand new factsheets on Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS), Health is More Than Healthcare: Inequities in Breast Cancer, Disparities in Breast Cancer: Through the Breast Cancer-Care Continuum.
Free Educational Webinars: BCAction’s webinars provide unbiased, scientific-based information for people to make their own decisions and take action for change.
- Presented six webinars reaching nearly 2,000 people in 41 states and 18 countries.
Information & Resources for People Affected by Breast Cancer: BCAction provides support and education to people around the country affected by breast cancer.
- Provided information and referrals to more than 200 people and continues to be a valuable service for people who have been recently diagnosed or are affected by breast cancer.
Conferences: Breast Cancer Action’s staff consistently attend & present at conferences across the country to network with colleagues, build relationships and provide thought leadership on breast cancer advocacy issues.
- In 2013, we attended and/or presented at eleven conferences including California Breast Cancer Research Program’s (CBCRP) conference, The California Prevention Institute of California’s 2nd Annual Breast Cancer and African Americans Conference and the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. To read about the important issues for patients from the Symposium, see our coverage in The Source.
- Think Before You Pink® Activities Changing the Conversation Around Breast Cancer For 10 years, Breast Cancer Action has called for transparency and accountability from companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising. With unprecedented national media coverage, 2012 marks the year that our Think Before You Pink® message gained mainstream approval with a growing acceptance of our long standing views connecting environmental toxins and breast cancer.
- Pink Ribbons, Inc. Partnership This film documents the reality of mainstream breast cancer fundraising and offers a thorough analysis of pink ribbons and cause marketing campaigns. The film draws on and heavily references BCAction’s work. Our staff worked with the director and the National Film Board of Canada on the production of the film as part of our ongoing work to change the conversation around breast cancer. Through a partnership with the distributor, BCAction members, staff and board members had the opportunity to answer questions, facilitate discussions and distribute materials and toolkits, to nearly 1,200 people at over 20 screenings, to complement the film. The film has also screened in an additional 27 communities around the country.
- Wide Distribution of Think Before You Pink® Toolkit The toolkit provides activists with tools to take action to hold pinkwashers accountable, deepens the understanding of the politics of breast cancer, and asks questions to be certain that valuable dollars go towards addressing & ending this epidemic. In 2012, we distributed over 10,000 toolkits to activists around the county.
- Raise a Stink! Campaign – Another Win for Think Before You Pink® Each year, we challenge the way the breast cancer industry does business and hold corporations responsible for the ingredients in their pink ribbons products. In October 2011, more than 5,000 activists joined us in demanding an end to the production of Komen’s pinkwashing perfume containing chemicals of concern, including known hormone disruptors, sold in the name of breast cancer. As a result, in May 2012, Komen ended their partnership with TPR Holdings to produce Promise Me perfume, effectively removing it from the market. This is a huge victory for all of us working to make sure women’s health comes before corporate profits, and that pink ribbon products do not harm our health.
- It’s An Epidemic, Stupid! Our 2012 Think Before You Pink campaign, It’s An Epidemic Stupid!, framed breast cancer as a public health crisis that requires meaningful action on the part of policy makers. We developed Breast Cancer Action’s 2012 Mandate for Government Action, which laid out a vision of what real action on breast cancer should look like and demanded that government leaders recognize their unique role and essential responsibility to address and end the breast cancer epidemic. Thousands of activists from all 50 states (and DC and Puerto Rico!) sent our Mandate to their congressional representatives urging that they commit to stop pinkwashing and support real action to address and end the breast cancer epidemic.
- BCAction Members Continued to Put Pressure on Eli Lilly to End Production of rBGH We believe that it is not enough to encourage the public to buy organic, but for the public to know that all dairy products are free of artificial hormones that may increase their risk of breast cancer. That is why we continue to focus on getting rBGH out of dairy products by targeting Eli Lilly to end the world-wide production of this harmful synthetic hormone. This year, over 1,500 BCAction activists sent a letter to Eli Lilly’s CEO demanding the company sign our Pledge to Prevent Pinkwashing.
- Working to End Gene Patents: Legal Challenge to Myriad’s BRCA 1&2 Gene Patents Moves Forward in the Courts As the advocacy and educational watchdog of the breast cancer movement, we are the only national breast cancer organization named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Myraid. We believe that patenting the BRCA 1 & 2 genes materially harms public interest by preventing anyone else from examining the genes and creates barriers to scientific research and medical care relating to breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad’s monopoly both restricts a woman’s access to genetic tests and limits her ability to get second opinions when there is an ambiguous genetic testing result, which happens disproportionately to women from ethnic minorities, including African Americans, Latinas and Asian Americans. After nearly 4 years, the case is headed to the Supreme Court in April 2013 where the issues of breast cancer gene patents will be decided once and for all. As part of this case, BCAction provided testimony about the harm gene patents do to women at a public hearing hosted by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in March. In addition, 200 BCAction members submitted personalized testimony to the US Patent and Trademark office. With an appeal still pending, we won’t stop until corporate patents on the “breast cancer genes” are a thing of the past.
- Safe Chemicals Act Advocacy We are committed to stopping breast cancer before it starts by eliminating involuntary exposures to chemicals linked to breast cancer. We are proud to partner with the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition to push for the passage of the Safe Chemicals Act, which would put the burden for chemical testing and protection from harm where it belongs—on our regulatory system.
- This year, BCAction members joined over 115,000 activists in the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition to petition Congress for stricter regulation of toxic chemicals.
- Thanks to your efforts in coordination with coalition partners, the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works PASSED the Safe Chemicals Act on to the full Senate for consideration. We will continue to push for full congressional approval of this important legislative reform.
- Methyl Iodide Pulled from US Market BCAction is committed to eliminating environmental toxins that contribute to the breast cancer epidemic. Methyl iodide is a cancer-causing pesticide commonly applied to crops, including strawberries, in the United States. We have always followed the precautionary principle of public health—we should act now with the information we have, instead of waiting until people get sick before we take action. In 2011, BCAction joined farm workers, rural high school students, parents, farmers and thousands of other activists in challenging the undue influence of the pesticide industry on government and public health. In response to this activist pressure, methyl iodide, the pesticide scientists called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth,” was pulled from the U.S. market by its manufacturer, Arysta LifeScience Corporation in 2012.
- Over 4300 People Participate in BCAction’s Free Educational Webinars BCAction’s webinars provide unbiased, scientific-based information for women to make their own decisions and take action for change. Together with terrific partner organizations and guest presenters; we covered the politics of breast cancer, toxic cosmetics, gene patenting, breast cancer screening, inequities in breast cancer, and a whole lot more. Since the inception of the program in May 2011, we have presented fourteen webinars reaching over 4,300 people in 45 states and 18 countries.
- BCAction Members Pressure Komen to Restore Planned Parenthood Funding Nearly 3,000 BCAction members expressed their outrage when Susan G. Komen for the Cure allowed politics to come before women’s health when they decided to pull funding for Planned Parenthood’s vital healthcare services. The result of BCAction member’s advocacy and that of other women’s health activists was Komen’s decision to restore funding to Planned Parenthood.
- Information & Referrals for People Affected by Breast Cancer BCAction provides support and education to people around the country affected by breast cancer. In 2012, we provided information and referrals to nearly 400 people and continue to be a valuable service for people who have been recently diagnosed or are affected by breast cancer.
San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium Attendance BCAction continues to bring a patient-focused voice, challenge the status quo and push researchers and clinicians to do better for women at risk of and living with breast cancer. To read about the important issues for patients from the Symposium, such as lower dose radiation, a lack of research on disparities and increasing length of time on Tamoxifen, see our analysis here.
- Safe Cosmetics Act Advocacy As an endorsing member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, we work to secure the corporate, regulatory, and legislative reforms necessary to eliminate dangerous chemicals from cosmetics and personal care products.
- Congressional Hearing on Cosmetics Over 1,000 members emailed Congress ensuring that consumers and workers were heard at the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health’s hearing in March 2012 entitled “Examining the Current State of Cosmetics” – the first hearing of its kind in over 30 years.
- Cosmetic Company Makes Change Thanks to our member’s efforts and those of our coalition partners at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the manufacturing giant Johnson & Johnson agreed to phase out chemicals linked to cancer from its baby and adult cosmetics products.
- BCAction convened the Latina Roundtable with staff from organizations serving Latinas with breast cancer in the Bay Area to determine how we can best work together to achieve health equity.
- BCAction partnered with First Exposures, a local mentorship program for underserved teens. Thirty young photographers attended our presentations on food justice, toxins in our environment, and communities carrying a toxic burden. Students created educational posters, which were exhibited at a well-attended event, “Environmental Injustice: It Ain’t A Pretty Picture”, co-sponsored by BCAction.
- BCAction launched our Raise a Stink! campaign, in response to Susan G. Komen’s perfume called Promise Me, which contains unlisted chemicals that are regulated as toxic and hazardous, have not been adequately evaluated for human safety, and have demonstrated negative health effects. Our campaign asked the public to send letters to Komen, urging it to recall Promise Me perfume and sign BCAction’s Pledge to Prevent Pinkwashing. The campaign:
- Received fantastic media coverage across the United States in Marie Claire magazine, the New York Times, the Dallas Morning News, the Chicago Tribune, and NPR’s On Point, and was picked up by all the major TV stations, among other media outlets
- Activated nearly 5,000 people to send letters to Komen leadership
- Forced Komen to issue a public statement “in response to questions raised about ingredients in Promise Me perfume” and was held accountable for its failure to put patients before profits
- Obtained a promise from Komen to reformulate their Promise Me perfume for 2012
- BCAction rolled out it’s first-ever Think Before You Pink® Toolkit. The content rich toolkit is designed to help consumers understand the issues and concerns surrounding ‘pinkwashing’ and pink ribbon marketing. The toolkit provides readers explicit tips and tools for taking action to ensure that companies stop promoting toxic products in the name of breast cancer. Since its launch, we have been actively distributing the toolkit to our members and partner organizations.
- The ACLU filed a petition seeking Supreme Court review of Myriad Genetics patents on two human genes associated with hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2. BCAction is the only national breast cancer organization that has signed on as a plaintiff in this suit against Myriad Genetics.
- After years of advocacy by BCAction against approval of the drug Avastin, the FDA revoked the use of Avastin for metastatic breast cancer based on existing science. Since 2007, BCAction has actively opposed the use of Avastin for metastatic breast cancer patients because of its failure to improve overall survival or quality of life and its serious side effects. This decision is the right one, but it’s not a victory. We will continue to demand and support the approval of more effective, less toxic, and more affordable treatment options for all women with breast cancer.
- Celebrates 20th anniversary year.
- Successfully advocates at the FDA to deny Genentech accelerated approval for TDM-1 for metastatic breast cancer patients based on one single-armed trial that has not given sufficient information on efficacy and safety. BCA continues to uphold stringent drug approval standards over hasty access without legitimate clinical benefit. BCA will continue to monitor how TDM-1 performs in Phase III trials.
- Activates over 6,700 people to take action through BCA’s Milking Cancer campaign. Milking Cancer demands that Eli Lilly stop manufacturing rBGH (artificial recombinant bovine growth hormone) because it is linked to breast cancer. Eli Lilly also makes breast cancer “prevention” and treatment drugs.
- Successfully advocates at the FDA to stop the use of Avastin as treatment for metastatic breast cancer. In 2007, BCA was the only breast cancer organization to put patients first by actively opposing the use of Avastin for metastatic breast cancer because of its failure to improve overall survival or quality of life, its side effects, and high price tag. In 2010, BCA’s position was endorsed by a number of breast cancer organizations.
- Launches “What the Cluck?” an award-winning advocacy campaign that demands an end to Kentucky Fried Chicken and Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s pinkwashing campaign, “Buckets for the Cure.” Over 5,200 take action. The campaign wins a second place Path to Victory Award from Business Ethics Network, and is covered by bloggers and national news outlets, including NPR, Huffington Post, Fox News, and The Colbert Report.
- Forms Screening Task Force in response to the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force’s breast cancer screening recommendations released in November 2009. While BCA’s screening policy is hailed as a leader in the field, the task force revised the policy to address the needs of all affected communities.
- Wins the first round of lawsuits against Myriad Genetics by challenging the company’s patents on breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Patents were ruled invalid by a U.S. federal judge on March 29, 2010.
- General Mills announced that it would remove the cancer-linked synthetic growth hormone rBGH from Yoplait Yogurt.
- Dannon followed suit, announcing they will be rBGH-free by 2010. Together General Mills and Dannon represent two-thirds of the U.S. dairy market.
- Congress funds Comparative Effectiveness Research effort as part of the federal economic stimulus.
- BCA’s victorious 2008 Think Before You Pink campaign, “Yoplait: Put a Lid on It,” won the first place 2009 BENNY Award from the Business Ethics Network. The annual BENNY Awards recognize outstanding corporate campaign victories.
- Launched Milking Cancer campaign, demanding that Eli Lilly stop making rBGH, thus removing it from the world market. Thousands take action in the first week.
- On behalf of patients, successfully testified at the FDA against the approval of Doxil for metastatic breast cancer.
- Joined ACLU in lawsuit against Myriad Genetics for its patents on breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.
- Activated 1,500 people to take action against pinkwashing just two weeks into our Think Before You Pink campaign.
- Met with Genentech (Avastin) and Amgen (anemia drugs) representatives to air concerns about their products.
- Launched five-year strategic plan — challenging assumptions and inspiring change in breast cancer advocacy.
- Published its 100th edition of the bimonthly newsletter The Source.
- Successfully advocated for removal of phthalates in cosmetics made by Secret, Arrid, and Christian Dior.
- Think Before You Pink Critical Questions appear in promotional literature and media statements from Komen and the American Cancer Society.
- Initiated First National Breast Cancer Research Summit, a gathering of funders, scientists, and key activists from around the nation.
- Think Before You Pink website was Yahoo’s pick of the month for October.
- Asserted a unique perspective, focusing on cost and effectiveness, in opposition to approval of Avastin as a treatment for breast cancer.
- Successfully argued for cancellation of STELLAR Trial, maintaining that pills for prevention always results in disease substitution.
- Published initial Aromatase Inhibitor Side Effects Survey results.
- Founding member of CHANGE, a coalition of organizations working to create a better system for regulating toxic chemicals in California.
- Fenton Communications featured BCA’s Think Before You Pink campaign as a case study in its presentation “Because It’s Worth It: 10 Ways to Measure the Impact of Your Communications.”
- BAWG, cofounded by BCA, wins “Pioneers of Precaution” award at the First National Conference on the Precautionary Principle in Baltimore, Maryland.
- BCA’s California Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005 (SB 484) enacted.
- BCA’s Think Before You Pink campaign inspired Komen and Breast Cancer Research Foundation to post their own questions consumers should ask before buying pink ribbon products.
- Successfully advanced dialogue among stakeholders concerning the California Biomonitoring Program (SB 1379), monitoring presence and concentration of chemicals in California.
- 2002 — Research confirms BCA’s longstanding concerns about hormone therapy and breast cancer risk.
- 1998 — BCA opposes use of tamoxifen for reduction of risk of breast cancer in healthy women.
- 1998 — BCA successfully calls for release of data showing high dose chemotherapy/bone marrow transplant does not work for breast cancer patients.