Our elected officials say they care deeply about breast cancer. But in seeking our votes, few have moved beyond support for more awareness and increased screening. Thirty years of awareness and screening has not changed the fact that women are still facing a breast cancer epidemic. It’s time for our public officials who want our votes to commit to meaningful action!
These critical questions for conscious voters can help you make sense of where your elected official or candidate for public office really stands and determine the meaningful actions—if any—they are taking to address and end the breast cancer epidemic.
1. Does your candidate think more mammograms are the only solutions to the breast cancer epidemic?
Mammograms do not prevent breast cancer. They detect cancer that already exists. Most breast cancers have been present for six to eight years by the time they appear on mammograms. And some breast cancers will never show up on a mammogram, which can miss up to 25% of tumors, particularly in women younger than 50. While mammograms miss some breast cancers, they have also been found to lead to over-diagnosis and overtreatment. Furthermore, the role of mammograms in saving lives has often been overstated: research shows that for every 1,000 women screened over a period of 10 years, approximately 3 breast cancer deaths might be prevented, a significantly lower number than generally assumed. Screening does little to meet the needs of women living with the disease and does nothing to stop the disease. Mammograms have an important but fundamentally limited role and should be part of, not all of, a strategy to address the breast cancer epidemic.
2. Does your candidate believe that women can prevent breast cancer through healthy lifestyle choices?
All known risk factors combined, including hereditary risk, account for less than half of all breast cancers. After 30 years of awareness and a focus on behavior to reduce risk, we are no closer to ending this epidemic. We simply have not solved the epidemic by telling women to drink less, control their weight and breast feed their infants. Indeed, the authors of the Institute of Medicine Report on Breast Cancer and the Environment released in 2011 acknowledge that there is no evidence that individual women who follow the report’s recommendations to reduce breast cancer risk will actually reduce their personal risk. A woman’s greatest risk of developing breast cancer continues to be because she’s a woman– and her risk increases as she ages. We need our leaders to stop blaming women and to understand women can do everything ‘right’ yet they are at risk for the disease. We are all exposed to multiple chemicals that increase our risk of breast cancer in everything from our food to our air throughout the course of our lives. We will not end the breast cancer epidemic only through lifestyle modification and/or our consumer choices.
3. Does your candidate think access to healthcare fully solves the fact that women of color are more likely to die of breast cancer than white women?
There are grave inequities at each step of the breast cancer-care continuum. While white women are more likely to develop breast cancer, African American, Latina and Samoan women are more likely to die from breast cancer. Studies show that, on average, women of color are diagnosed at younger ages with more aggressive breast cancers. This fact cannot be explained by genetics, nor can it be solved just through increased access to health care. While access to health care is vitally important to obtain preventive health services and manage illness, even with equal access, research shows that women of color have higher rates of morbidity and mortality. Inequities in breast cancer are a result of complex social factors including differences in where and how we live, learn, work and play. Legislative and policy solutions to these health disparities must address broader social inequities.
4. Is your candidate beholden to corporate donors whose practices or products are linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer?
The top job of our elected officials is to represent and protect people—and we know corporations are not people. Our representatives must act to protect public health, not the interests of companies whose products increase people’s risk of developing cancer. Many elected officials put the interests and profits of their corporate donors before patient interest when it comes to strong regulation to protect public health. Know where your candidate’s funding comes from and how it may have an influence on their decisions.
5. Does your candidate engage in ‘political pinkwashing’ by promoting empty “feel good” activities that win votes and get media attention but do nothing to address and end the epidemic?
When candidates seek votes by claiming they care about breast cancer, but they fail to take meaningful action to address and end the breast cancer epidemic, this is political pinkwashing. Too many candidates wear pink ribbons in the name of “breast cancer awareness” or support essentially empty legislation which appears to take action on the issue but does little to nothing to protect or improve women’s health and lives. Instead of seeing breast cancer as an easy, “feel good” issue that wins public favor, we insist our representatives recognize breast cancer as an epidemic that requires immediate and direct government action. Vote for candidates who know there are no “quick fixes” for the epidemic and are supporting meaningful solutions through independent research and strong regulation.
If, after reviewing these critical questions, you have doubts about your candidate or public official’s commitment to meaningful action that works to address and end the breast cancer epidemic, here are some actions you can take:
- Join Breast Cancer Action in urging representatives from every state to support the 2012 Breast Cancer Action Mandate for Government Action.
- Monitor your representatives over time – do they support bills that meaningfully address breast cancer or do they engage in political pinkwashing?
- Join Breast Cancer Action – become a member and help us keep the pressure on policy makers.