SNOWSHOE MAGAZINE FEATURED ARTICLE:

A Step at a Time: Snowshoeing to End Breast Cancer

As you might have already heard, the Breast Cancer Fund is sponsoring the Winter Snowshoe Challenge for the second year in a row.

On March 5, the Challenge will be featured at Kirkwood Mountain Resort in California. The Winter Snowshoe Challenge will offer three snowshoeing sessions with routes that range from first-timer to advanced. Entrance to the event includes breakfast, lunch, and LUNA bars and will end with a community celebration and a ceremony to honor everyone whose lives have been touched by breast cancer. Throw in several great raffle prizes and opportunities allowing you to get involved in fighting the environmental causes of this disease, and you have the makings of a wonderful, inspiring day.

Wait. Back up the buggy. Did I say environmental causes? Aren’t the major risk factors for breast cancer personally preventable things such as diet and exercise? And what about those pesky genetic risk factors? We can’t hear a news spot about breast cancer without the inevitable finger pointed at hereditary causes of the disease. So why is the Winter Snowshoe Challenge aimed at educating us about the environmental causes of breast cancer?

The answer might not be the clichéd simple one, but recent research has revealed what many have suspected for years now. Exposure to radiation and synthetic chemicals has been shown to contribute more to breast cancer than previously thought. This information was released in the report, “State of the Evidence 2004: What Is The Connection Between the Environment and Breast Cancer?,” a joint effort between two non-profit organizations, the Breast Cancer Fund and Breast Cancer Action. The Breast Cancer Fund provides advocacy for the identification and elimination of the environmental and other preventable causes of this disease. Breast Cancer Action also provides advocacy and education.

This is the third edition of this report, and it combines evidence from 21 research studies published since February 2003 and was peer reviewed by six leading scientists, including one from the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The body of evidence linking environmental toxicants to breast cancer is now growing substantially. The current report states that fewer than one in 10 cases of breast cancer occur in women with the loudly touted genetic predisposition factors. Furthermore, as many as half of all breast cancer cases currently occur in women with no known risk factors for the cancer. Instead, the evidence points to the fact that many of the 85,000 synthetic chemicals used in modern society contribute to the development of breast cancer by altering hormone function, gene mutations, or gene expression.

It’s thought that approximately 40,000 women will die from breast cancer this year alone. Not only does it strike more women worldwide than any other cancer except skin cancer but it’s also the leading cause of death in American women ages 34 to 44.

The latest State of the Evidence report found that chlorinated chemicals found in drinking water as well as many industrial processes are associated with an elevated risk in three of the studies analyzed. A solvent used in many varnishes, paints, and more has been shown to sensitize cells to estrogens and progestins and increasing the risk for breast cancer. Furthermore, hormone replacement therapy truly does increase the risk of breast cancer after use as found in the Million Women Study conducted in the United Kingdom.

As the number of chemicals used in our society and our world has increased, so too has the rates of breast cancer. In the 40s, a woman’s risk of contracting breast cancer was one in 22. Today, it’s one in seven. Unfortunately, many chemicals are put into use in our country without ever being effectively tested for safety. While it might benefit the corporations and the powers that be to introduce new substances this way, in the long run it is proving exceedingly dangerous for the rest of us. To add to this, there is very little research done to show how these chemicals interact with each other as they sit in our bodies.

Many cosmetics have also been found to contain chemicals, which can cause breast cancer. This has become such a concern that the Breast Cancer Fund has developed the Safe Cosmetics Campaign, a coalition of women’s, environmental, public health, religious, educational, labor, and consumer groups, and aimed at requiring the cosmetic industry to phase out the chemicals which are known or suspected to cause cancer.

Most women probably don’t realize that the lotions or make-up or shampoos they use on a daily basis might very well be contributing to a future risk of breast cancer. To learn more about the Safe Cosmetics Campaign, please visit http://www.safecosmetics.org. If you would like to know which chemicals are found in various cosmetics, visit http://www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep. There you can do a search to find if your personal care products might contain any of a number of chemicals suspected to cause cancer. Skin Deep offers a current database of approximately 7,500 cosmetics which are and aren’t safe to use. For example, before you slather on the suntan lotion during your next snowshoe trip, check out your brand of lotion here http://www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep/category.php?ewg_cat=Sunscreen/Tanning%20Oil.

So, with all of this compelling evidence about the very real link between environmental toxins and breast cancer, why do news reports, doctors, and many health organizations still push the genetic predisposition theory and personal care responsibility risk factors of the disease? An article in a prior issue of Sierra Magazine demonstrates that diagnosing and treating cancer is a much more profitable campaign than preventing it, especially when added to the potential costs to big industry of taking a preventive approach. Therefore, political and economic forces have adopted biased policies that favor treatment over prevention. And, of course, the government’s response to this topic ebbs and flows with each administration.

What can we do to change this? Well, a step at a time is a good start. Enter the Winter Snowshoe Challenge for a day of fun, education, and helpful fundraising. You can also visit http://www.breastcancerfund.org to learn how to get involved with the various events and campaigns they are currently undertaking. Sign-up on e-mail lists at any number of environmentally concerned Web sites and receive updates on action alerts and letters that can be written to representatives.

“Friend to friend communication is really important,” says Heather Sarantis, program manager at the Breast Cancer Fund. “There is so much we can teach each other.”

Sarantis suggests visiting the Breast Cancer Fund’s Web site and learning how to host a healthy cosmetic party.

With public education and a voice given to those who are researching this frightening link between the poisons in our environment and breast cancer, hopefully groups like the Breast Cancer Fund will be successful in their attempts to eliminate the toxic causes of this disease.

If you would like more information about the upcoming Winter Snowshoe Challenge, please e-mail Julie Homan, event associate, at julie@breastcancerfund.org or call 415-346-8223 ext. 15. I hope to see you there with smiles, snowshoes and good health.