COMMENT: by Babette FrancisNews Weekly
Another Pink Ribbon Day
, November 16, 2002
Another "Pink Ribbon Day - Breast Cancer Awareness Day" on October 28 (sponsored by Cancer Councils) - during which pink ribbons are sold to raise money for research, has come and gone, but women are not being informed of the results of research already available.
A serious anomaly is that while the Cancer Councils' campaigns against lung cancer and skin cancer are commendably based on prevention and risk reduction, there is no focus on this at all in regard to breast cancer. All the emphasis is on early detection and treatment, which are essential, but the ideal of prevention has been totally overlooked.
The value of research is substantially reduced if data which enable women to reduce or minimise their risk are not made known and appear only in professional journals. Not only have Cancer Councils in Australia ignored the ten-year study by British scientists published in The Lancet
(July 20, 2002), which showed that having more babies and more months of breastfeeding substantially reduces breast cancer risk, they have belittled it without citing any studies on which to base their assertions.
The Victorian Cancer Council's Breast Cancer: A Guide for Women
is positively misleading. Under "Myths" the booklet (page 5) states: "Breast feeding does not cause breast cancer, or protect you from it". Despite attention having been drawn to the error and an undertaking being given that the information would be updated, the Victorian Cancer Council has failed to correct it.
Professor John Boyages, Director, NSW Breast Cancer Institute, also belittled the protective effect of breastfeeding when this was raised by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward in the context of maternity leave.
In an ABC broadcast (September 14, 2002) Professor Boyages referred to a patient who breastfed four children but still got breast cancer and said: "I don't think you can isolate just this one little factor and say this is going to change the landscape and the incidence of breast cancer in Australia."
Breast feeding is not a "little" factor and citing the case of one patient who breastfed but still developed breast cancer is like arguing that because a teetotaller driver was killed in a car accident, alcohol is only a "little" factor in road deaths. We know this is not true.
Cancer Councils also fail to advise women on the scientifically accepted facts of the protective effect of having babies at a young age - and more of them - versus the increase in risk for those women who have their first child after age 30 or remain childless. Professor Lowenthal of Tasmania said he provides this information to his medical students, and Professor Alan Coates, CEO of the Cancer Council of Australia, said this information "was known in the 16th century".
The information should not be the preserve of medical students or 16th century historians but should be available to young girls and women presenting for abortion. They need to know that every year that a woman delays her first full-term pregnancy increases her breast cancer risk by 3.5 per cent.Dangerous combination
They also need to know that the combination of induced abortion and a family history of breast cancer is deadly. In the study by Janet Daling et al
(University of Washington, 1994), every
woman who had an abortion under age 18 and also had a family history of breast cancer, developed breast cancer by age 45. Women in the UK and USA are being warned, why not in Australia?
Dr Thomas Stuttaford, medical columnist for the London Times
warned (May 17, 2001) that women who had an abortion before starting a family had four times the risk of developing breast cancer.
In the USA the National Cancer Institute has deleted its misleading web page which had claimed that the link between abortion and breast cancer was "inconclusive".
The USA now has a Breast Cancer Prevention Institute headed by endocrinologist Professor Joel Brind and breast surgeon Dr Angela Lanfranchi. Cancer Councils in Australia should also focus on prevention by informing women of reproductive risk factors they can
avoid. There are many risk factors which women cannot avoid such as early puberty, late menopause and genetic history, but they can avoid risk factors such as induced abortion, and they can choose to breastfeed.
On Pink Ribbon Day I attempted to get on the ABC's talk back program with Virginia Trioli to discuss breast cancer prevention. Most callers were talking of their courageous battles against breast cancer, and I felt information on reducing the risk of getting this awful disease might be useful. I was asked to give only my first name and suburb, but as soon as I started speaking, Virginia asked sharply are you Babette Francis
? When I admitted I was, she gave me short shrift and cut me off in mid-sentence. There are none so blind as those who will not see, none so deaf as those who choose not to hear.
Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in women; about 10,000 Australian women are diagnosed with the disease each year, and in Victoria alone there are seven hundred deaths. Breast cancer is the major cause of death among pre-menopausal women (other than road accidents) and the second highest cause of death among older women, ranking only behind heart disease. The Cancer Councils can offer no coherent explanation for the big increase in incidence.Fate
Perhaps they are cowed by the fate of Professor Allan Langlands of the NSW Breast Cancer Prevention Institute who some years ago at a conference in Tasmania dared to voice the opinion that the medical profession was not making any headway in reducing the incidence of breast cancer and that the disease was increasing because of lifestyle factors, specifically that women were having their first baby later in life.
He was howled down so strenuously by feminists in the media who accused him of wanting to send women back to the dark ages, i.e., the kitchen sink (how's that for feminist logic?), that he withdrew into his shell and has refused to comment since. Nor have any of the other anti-cancer "experts". They congratulate themselves on the fact that the death rate is declining because of earlier diagnoses and advances in treatments, but even when cured, the diagnoses of breast cancers and the treatments cause women a great deal of suffering. Prevention and risk reduction should be the ideal.
- Babette Francis is the National & Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., and is on the advisory board of the international women's Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer.