Breast Cancer Action Webinar Discusses Screening Mammography and Breast Cancer Overdiagnosis

Photo courtesy of and stockimages

Photo courtesy of and stockimages

Breast Cancer Action Webinar

I sat in on a webinar today given by Breast Cancer Action, a group I greatly admire and support for the work they are doing in breast cancer advocacy.  You can find out more about BCA by clicking on the link (above) which will take you to their website, or in the article I wrote last August , “Support Breast Cancer Action – A Good Cause“.

Today’s webinar was titled “The Oversimplification of Early Detection: Screening Mammography and Breast Cancer Overdiagnosis”.  They are running it again on Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 9:00 am PST, 12:00 PM EST.  You can sign up for the webinar by using this link.

Presenting the webinar were Sahru Keiser, BCA’s Education and Mobilization Coordinator; Dr Tracy Weitz, BCA Board Chair and Director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at UCSF; and Dr H. Gilbert Welch, Professor of Medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Research, and co-author of the study “Effect of Three Decades of Screening Mammography on Breast Cancer Incidence.”

They began the webinar with a quotation from Otis Brawley, Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society, who admitted that American medicine has overpromised when it comes to cancer screenings.

Dr Weitz made the point that breast cancer is intensely personal, but also highly political, highly commercialized, and highly confusing.  I was thinking that I couldn’t agree more.

Challenging Old Ways of Looking At Breast Cancer

Dr Weitz said we need to be challenging the old way of thinking about breast cancer, which view has been that breast cancer is a progressive disease that gets more deadly over time.  Based on that old belief, American medicine adopted the approach that early detection is the best way to save lives.

But that approach, and mammography in particular, has not given us the results we have hoped for.  Now we know that:

1.   Not all breast cancers are alike;

2.  Not all breast cancer tumors can be found;

3.  Not all breast cancer can be cured;

4.  The type of tumor matters more than the size;

5.  Not all breast cancers need to be treated;

6.  Screening and treatment for breast cancer comes with its own risks and benefits.

Several times during the webinar it was pointed out that they were primarily discussing breast cancer screening, which refers to the testing of otherwise healthy women with NO breast symptoms.   Diagnostic mammograms still definitely have a role to play when a lump has been perceived and one needs to find out what it is. 

Screening Mammography Benefits and Risks

The greatest benefits of screening mammography are seen in populations with a higher prevalence of disease and with the type of disease that responds to treatments.  The problem, however, is how many false positive tests there are – women who needlessly undergo a battery of tests only to find there is no cancer present.  They also mentioned the associated risks from radiation, because that in itself increases a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer. 

An interesting fact: women in the United States were exposed to SEVEN TIMES more radiation in 2006 than they were in the 1980’s.

Turtles, Bears and Birds

Dr Weitz had an interesting way of classifying breast cancer, she said there were 3 basic types:

Turtles – Those who had non-aggressive, slow moving tumors that would never be life-threatening (which is much of DCIS)

Bears – Those whose tumors lie in hibernation, wake up suddenly and can be deadly

Birds – Those whose tumors fly quickly, were very aggressive, and no matter how small when found, cannot be effectively treated

Apparently screening mammography is better at finding turtles.  If we hadn’t gone looking, we wouldn’t have found them and no harm would be done.  I feel terribly sad for the women in this category who have chosen to have mastectomies out of utter terror of a report that says “cancer”, even though their particular tumor would have stayed localized and not amounted to anything.

1.3 Million Overdiagnosed

Dr Welch noted that in future, screening must advance the time of diagnosis of the cancers that are destined to cause death, that finding these sorts of tumors earlier was absolutely paramount.  He stated that screening mammography has not changed late stage cancer detection but it is finding many more early stage cancers.  He estimated that 1.3 million women in the US have been overdiagnosed and overtreated.

Dr Welch stated that the breast cancer death rate is falling, but that was because it was being treated more effectively, not because of early screening.  He stated that the rates of metastatic breast cancer had not changed, that it appears not to have been affected by early screening at all.

African American Woman At Higher Risk

Sahru Keiser made the point that African American women have a higher risk of dying from breast cancer, that they are 40% more likely to die than white women because of differences in tumor characteristics, because of inability to obtain a good standard of medical care, and that for this group of women, the risk was greater for those who were premenopausal, and that increases in mammography screening had not led to a reduction in mortality.

I think these are shameful statistics.

5 Good Reasons to Rethink Mammograms

All in all, BCA felt that mammograms were not the best screening tool for these reasons:

1.  Mammograms were less effective in premenopausal women

2.  Mammograms were less effective for those with dense breast tissue

3.  Mammography created another set of problems because of the radiation associated with them

4.  Mammography is finding cancers that really should not be found and are nothing to worry about

5.  Mammography isn’t particularly good at finding cancers that really did need to be found.

Here Are 6 Things We CAN Do

1.  BCA advocated being proactive about prevention.  I agree with that and many of the articles on this blog are written with prevention in mind.

2.  Know your body – the shape, the size, the feel of your breasts – so that you will know if something unusual is taking place within the breast.

3.  It was recommended to start having screening mammograms at menopause, and then have them only every other year until the age of 75, at which point your health professionals could made recommendations suitable for your particular health situation. 

4.  It was also recommended that clinical breast exams be performed every year by an experienced health professional – that’s the exam where your doctor has you lie on your back and feels for any notable lumps in the breast.  I would add to that to learn how to do this yourself – there are plenty of websites that teach how to do a breast exam and your doctor will teach you as well.  Do it monthly, after your menstrual cycle if you are premenopausal.  I recommend placing a sticky note reminder on your calendar – or if you have an iPad or smart phone, put that reminder in your calendar to do this monthly.

5.  Read through my site to find out what I recommend for breast health and stress reduction, because I truly believe that stress plays a big role in the development of many cancers.  Sign up for my newsletters, they are free and contain my best recommendations about prevention and healing from breast cancer.

6.  My personal favorite breast screening method is thermography.  If you are lucky enough to have a Thermal Imaging center in your city, I strongly recommend them, I have utilized thermal imaging for myself and found it to be very pleasant, completely safe, and no SQUISH.  For more information, see my article titled Breast Screening Without the SQUISH.

BCA recommended two books for further information: “Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick In The Pursuit of Health” by Dr H. Gilbert Welch, and “The Big Squeeze:  A Social and Political History of the Controversial Mammogram” by Dr Handel Reynolds.

The bottom line is that if you want to have mammogram screenings, you should continue to do so, but if you don’t want them you should not be coerced into it, and you have every right to do as you wish, it’s your body.

If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer (or avoiding it) in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach).  It is my honor and my goal to help you through this.

Are Your Manicures Increasing Your Breast Cancer Risk?

Are Your Manicures Increasing Your Breast Cancer Risk

Photo courtesy of and graur codrin

Are Your Manicures Increasing Your Breast Cancer Risk?

I know this is a touchy subject – we like having beautiful nails and we like this little bit of pampering that we fit into our busy schedules.  It’s nice, it’s relaxing, it’s fun to do with your girlfriend.  But yes – it may be increasing your risk of breast cancer, I’m sorry to tell you.

I sat in on a webinar yesterday held by Breast Cancer Action titled Toxic Cosmetics – Demanding Stronger Regulation.  BCA always has great webinars with well researched and presented material.

Some Maddening Statistics

It was a great webinar, full of interesting (and maddening) statistics about our cosmetics and body products and how they are still full of toxic chemicals.  Here are some of the stats they introduced:

  • Women use an average of 12 body products per day, exposing them to 168 chemicals on a daily basis;
  • 20% of personal care products have carcinogenic ingredients;
  • 22% of personal care products have chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors;
  • 34% of personal care products are known to be toxic to the reproductive system and are especially toxic to our teenaged girls (who tend to use more of these products than adults);
  • In a recent study done with 20 teenaged girls, 16 chemicals were found in all 20 girls – these chemicals were all hormone alterers;
  • Perfume companies are allowed to keep secret what goes into their fragrances – the term “fragrance” hides blends of unknown chemicals which, when analyzed have shown, on average, to contain 14 chemicals that are known hormone disruptors, not assessed for safety;
  • 61% of lipstick brands tested contained lead (Estee Lauder had 5 of the 10 most contaminated ones) – no amount of lead in your system is safe and we’re putting this on our lips, where it can easily be ingested, day after day.

Toxic Manicures

This information was not new to me, I’ve known about the dangers contained within our personal care products for years, but what did surprise me was the information presented about nail polish.  I have been told for years by my natural therapists that we shouldn’t be using nail polish, but I didn’t know that there were up to 450 chemicals in nail polish, 80 of which have been proven to have some degree of harm to the human body.

Here’s an interesting article The Inherent Dangers of Getting One’s Nails Did .  They name the “toxic trio” of chemicals commonly found in nail polish and name the companies who were the worst offenders when the article was written in April, 2012.  They ended the article with a supposedly funny “If you recognize one of these names, stop licking your hands immediately.”  Funny.  But licking isn’t necessary.  Probably the most important thing to understand is that fingernails are absorbent and easily absorb all of those toxic chemicals we’re pouring onto them.

Most men I know don’t get the whole nail polish thing anyway, so we’re clearly not doing this for our men.  They believe that women’s nails are sexiest without anything on them. Healthy nails that are well groomed are shiny, pink, and white and look like a French manicure (without the cost and hassle of a French manicure). But hey – just my opinion.

Before you go for that next manicure, please just check out this list of some of the worst chemicals being put in nail polish:  benzene, benzoyl peroxide, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, glycol ethers, methylene chloride, tolulene.

Never heard of them?  Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website and plug in a few of those chemicals. For instance, here’s what EWG has to say about benzene.  This chemical has NO BUSINESS being in anything related to our bodies.

Until the cosmetic companies clean up their act, we need to boycott their products.  Hitting them where it hurts is the ONLY thing they’ll pay attention to.  They obviously don’t care about our health.  (Uh oh, she’s on a rant again…)  Companies who promote breast cancer awareness and put pink ribbons all over everything and then continue to put these chemicals in their products that are known to be cancer causing really make me see red (no, not pink).

If this doesn’t make you mad, I don’t know what will.  Breast Cancer Action is actively working towards better regulation of the cosmetic industry (among many other advocacy issues).  They say “all of this points to one clear need: systemic change. This means putting people before profits, whether it is drug development for patients or employing the precautionary principle. This means removing the burden of prevention from the individual and placing it squarely where it belongs: on our society and regulatory systems.”

So I recommend doing 3 things:

1.  Boycott the companies who continue to pour toxic chemicals into their body products.  Here is one that does NOT.

2.  Donate to Breast Cancer Action – they are doing GREAT things for us.

3.  Try naked nails.  They’re sexier!  You can massage in some organic shea butter or almond oil and go au natural.

If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (  It is my honor to help you through this.

Kim Cameron of Side FX Donates Song Proceeds To Breast Cancer Research

Kim Cameron of Side FX Donates Song Proceeds To Breast Cancer Research

Photo courtesy of

Kim Cameron of Side FX Donates Song Proceeds To Breast Cancer Research

Today I wanted to just mention that I was recently contacted by the PR guy for Kim Cameron and her band, Side FX, to tell me that they wished to donate the proceeds of one of their singles to breast cancer research.  I confess to never having heard of Side FX, but I have now.

They are doing extremely well, apparently one of their videos already has around 300,000 views after just over a week, so congratulations to them.

I believe that Kim Cameron has recently lost a family member to cancer and has decided to donate all of the proceeds from the song “The Man I Used To Know” to breast cancer research, which is commendable. 

If you’d like to support that band (and breast cancer research in the process), here is a link to their song:

The Man I Used To Know

Personal Appeal to Kim Cameron

I would like to make a personal appeal to Kim Cameron at this stage.  Rather than donating the money to breast cancer research, I would challenge her to donate those funds to an organization that is actively working to end the breast cancer epidemic, Breast Cancer Action.  It’s not that I think “breast cancer research” isn’t doing what they should be.  But Breast Cancer Action is not dependent on pharmaceutical companies or any corporations for funding, making them much more independent and able to effect real change at a grass roots level in the breast cancer epidemic.

Breast Cancer Action has been working since 1990 to put patients first, to create a healthier, less toxic environment, and to eliminate the social inequities that exist.  Their “Think Before You Pink” campaign has been extraordinarily successful in raising public awareness of the pinkwashing problem and other empty gestures that do little to change the breast cancer epidemic. 

BCA’s current campaign “It’s An Epidemic, Stupid!” (the name was sparked by Bill Clinton’s slogan “It’s the Economy, Stupid!”) was begun because BCA feels that now is the critical moment.  After more than 30 years of “awareness” campaigns and billions spent on pink ribbon products, we are still losing 40,000 women per year to breast cancer and more needs to be done by each of us, our politicians and our government.

Kim, if you read this, congratulations on your decision to help breast cancer research.  Now take it one step further and donate to a cause that is actually doing something about it.  Thanks for listening and keep up the good work.

A Rant on Pinktober and Pinkwashing

pinktober and pinkwashingPinktober and Pinkwashing

You know, I used to love the month of October.

I loved the colors of the autumn leaves and how they crunch under your feet (well I still do, but read on), my son’s birthday falls in October, the heat of the summer is gone, Halloween costumes – it’s just generally a fun time of year.

But now October has turned into “Pinktober” and it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month – everything turns pink.  Ick.

Breast Cancer Action has coined the term pinkwashing and here’s their explanation of the word: Pinkwasher: (pink’-wah-sher) noun. A company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.

Pinkwashing seriously pisses me off.  It’s ruining the month of October for me and that’s not a nice thing.

Pinkwashing raises a big question we should all be paying attention to.  Are we really helping breast cancer research by buying all that pink merchandise?  While many of us think we’re doing a noble thing by buying pink things, pinkwashing is often just a marketing ploy to sell more products.  Of course, many of the companies that are selling pink merchandise do donate to breast cancer research, but many don’t (or if they do, it’s a tiny percentage of their actual profit).

And all of this is still not why Pinktober pisses me off so much.

The companies that really chap my hide are the ones that plaster pink ribbons on their products and make a big deal about how much they contribute to breast cancer research. HOWEVER their products are filled with toxins like parabens, TEA and DEA which have been shown to be carcinogenic.  It’s almost like companies such as Avon and Estee Lauder know that their products contain toxic ingredients and they feel guilty about being contributors to breast cancer, so they make this big deal about having products that help fund breast cancer research.

This is NOT alright with me, nor should it be with you.

Lastly, Pinktober reminds me of having breast cancer and while that was 8 years ago, I don’t need the reminder.

Top 10 Pinkwashers

I found a great website at – check out what they had to say about the top 10 pinkwashers in this blog post a year ago.  I couldn’t have said it better.

The Worst Offender

I think the biggest sin has been committed by the Susan G Komen Foundation.  Their Promise Me™ Eau De Parfum is full of ingredients which have no business being put on our bodies – things like galaxolide (it’s a hormone disrupter) and toluene (a neurotoxin banned by the International Fragrance Association), and to make matters worse, only $7.97 from each $59 bottle will go to research.  That stinks.  Seriously.

If all this makes you mad enough to take action, click HERE.

Being Proactive With Our Health Is The Key

I think that only by supporting groups such as Breast Cancer Action, being aware of what we are putting onto and in our bodies in our cosmetics, body products, and food, keeping our stress levels down, and exercising regularly will we begin to see dramatic decreases in the numbers of women being diagnosed with breast cancer.

The bottom line is do your research, make sure your purchases align with your values and be comfortable on where your dollars are being spent.


If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (  When you’re in a desperate situation, you need an ally.  You can depend on me to help you through this.

Support Breast Cancer Action – A Good Cause


support breast cancer action I would like to recommend that you support a breast cancer advocacy group called Breast Cancer Action, a national organization founded in 1990 by a group of women who understood that together we can effect much change.

Breast Cancer Action was born (according to their website) “from a need for a grassroots organization with a unique understanding of the political, economic, and social context of breast cancer.”

BCA’s Mission Statement

“Breast Cancer Action carries the voices of people affected by breast cancer to inspire and compel the changes necessary to end the breast cancer epidemic.”

What I Love About Breast Cancer Action

Their strict contributions policy allows them to be an independent voice for women who are either at risk of breast cancer or are living with it.  They do not take money from anyone who profits from or contributes to the breast cancer epidemic. I believe that’s important.

They advocate for more effective treatments for breast cancer (and less toxic – which is what I’m all about too).

They are committed to raising the public awareness of environmental exposures to harmful chemicals that put people at risk for breast cancer (one of my favorite topics as well).

They have a Think Before You Pink Campaign which you should find out about.  It’s gotten so that I hate the month of October for all the pink ribbons everywhere and the companies who CLAIM to be supporting the fight against breast cancer but continue marketing their toxic chemical-laden body products and cosmetics to unsuspecting women.  GRRR!

Most importantly, BCA is actively opposing gene patenting because the patents give one company the exclusive rights to all testing and research on BRCA genes. This monopoly effectively prevents anyone else from so much as examining the genes, and creates barriers to scientific research and medical care relating to breast and ovarian cancer.

Sign Up For Their Webinars

Yesterday I attended one of BCA’s webinars titled “Reducing Inequities in Breast Cancer – Why Experience Matters”.  So they are also advocates for communities where inequalities exist in getting the proper treatment for breast cancer – whether due to language or cultural barriers, racial inequities, financial barriers, or geographical location).

This webinar was well presented and made me aware that just because we live in the United States, we are not all treated equally with regard to being able to get the proper information and treatment for breast cancer.

Please support Breast Cancer Action with your contributions.

 If you’d like to stay connected, sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook ( and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.


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