Over the last month, while the Breast Cancer Awareness campaign was in full swing, some have questioned the effectiveness of what they call “pink washing,” or slapping everything from lipstick to a Ford Mustang with a pink ribbon and selling it in the name of breast cancer advocacy.
We might be hesitant to criticize companies for what appear to be well-intentioned efforts to raise awareness about a disease that will affect 1 in 8 women in America. However, when KFC starts selling pink “Buckets for the Cure,” we have to ask whether these companies really have the best interests of women at heart. Many ingredients in cosmetics have been linked to breast cancer, as have pollutants found in car exhaust. And the link between buckets of fried, tumor-ridden, estrogen-pumped chicken breasts and breast cancer should be obvious. Even the National Cancer Institute warns on its website that many studies, "have shown that an increased risk of developing colorectal, pancreatic, and breast cancer is associated with high intakes of well-done, fried or barbecued meats."
Meanwhile, the American Institute for Cancer Research reports that 60 to 70 percent of all cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes. Their number one dietary recommendation is to: "Choose predominantly plant-based diets rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, legumes and minimally processed starchy staple foods."
Three recent and reassuring studies released in the past month support the finding that lifestyle changes centered on healthy diet and exercise are the best way to prevent breast cancer. Here’s a roundup:
A team of Harvard scientists reviewed data from over 95,000 women gathered over a 20 year period and found that women who regularly take brisk walks are 15% less likely to get breast cancer than women who walk less than one hour a week. The study’s author, Dr. A. Heather Elliassen, noted that while there is a growing body of evidence that women who are highly physically active are at a lower risk of developing breast cancer, this study was encouraging because it suggested that women do not have to engage in vigorous work outs. It is enough to simply walk roughly three to four miles an hour, at a pace where it is harder to hold a conversation than when casually strolling.
Two studies in China have found that women with a higher intake of soy experience a lower risk of death or recurrence from breast cancer after menopause. These studies were conducted on women who had been eating soy for most of their lives. Doctors in the U.S. stressed that there was no evidence to suggest that women who have never eaten soy should begin after diagnosis. However, the China studies do suggest that women may experience a benefit from integrating soy into their diet as a preventative measure. Soy foods are rich in compounds called isoflavones, which affect estrogen metabolism. In the most current study, women with the highest soy intake consumed more than 42 milligrams of isoflavones per day, roughly equivalent to one and a half cups of soy milk.
Researchers at Boston University found that eating lots of carrots and cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and collard greens, could lower risk of breast cancer. The study focused on an aggressive type of breast cancer called ER-negative that is resistant to estrogen therapy. The researchers found that women who ate at least two servings of vegetables a day had a 43 percent lower risk of ER-negative breast cancer compared with women who ate fewer than four servings of vegetables each week. The data was particularly significant for African American women, who are often diagnosed with this type of breast cancer. The author of the study, Dr. Deborah A. Boggs, noted that her earlier work showed that a diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables led to a lower risk of ER-negative breast cancer in African American women.
So, next year when October rolls around, let's start calling it Breast Cancer Prevention Month rather than Breast Cancer Awareness Month. KFC, Estee Lauder, L'oreal and Ford have all succeeded in making us very aware of the prevalence of breast cancer. Unintentionally, their efforts have also made more people aware of their contribution to breast cancer. But awareness is not enough. Prevention is what we need. We don't need pink buckets of fried chicken and pink-striped gas guzzlers. We have science on the side of health.