Mammograms, diet & exercise will not end the epidemic

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Karuna Jaggar

Executive Director Karuna Jaggar

By Karuna Jaggar, Breast Cancer Action Executive Director

In anticipation of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s CEO Nancy Brinker is calling for “less talk, more action” on breast cancer. I am struck by how similar the urged “action” looks to what the organization has been advocating for years. Komen’s “take action” emphasis continues to be on individual women getting annual mammograms. 

At Breast Cancer Action, we bring a markedly different understanding of what action we all need to take—for ourselves, each other, our mothers, daughters, and granddaughters—to truly end the breast cancer epidemic. Komen’s faith in mammograms to bring the “end to breast cancer” is misplaced.

  • Mammograms don’t prevent breast cancetr; they detect breast cancers that have already developed.
  • Mammograms don’t detect all breast cancers: according to the National Cancer Institute, “mammograms miss up to 20 percent of breast cancers that are present at the time of screening.”
  • And unfortunately, there are plenty of women diagnosed, by mammography, with early stage breast cancer who end up dying of breast cancer.

More women getting more mammograms is not going to end the breast cancer epidemic. Neither, of course, are healthy diets and good exercise regimes.

One of the ugly truths of breast cancer is that more than half of all breast cancers have no known cause and scientific evidence suggests that many cases are linked to exposure to environmental toxins. This means that, even if a woman follows Ms. Brinker’s call to exercise, never smoke, reduce alcohol consumption, and control her weight, she may still get breast cancer. Today the greatest risk for breast cancer is being a woman. In fact, a woman today has a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of getting breast cancer, up from 1 in 20 in the 1960s and 1 in 14 in the 1980s.

We need actions that benefit the health of all women, not just ourselves.

  • Action that does not assume synthetic chemicals are innocent until proven guilty.
  • Action that begins with corporations and extends to our state and federal regulatory systems.
  • Action that addresses the fact that too many women lack the health insurance of Ms. Brinker’s audience.
  • Action that turns the tide on the inequities that mean African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer than their white counterparts.
  • Action that produces more effective, less toxic treatments, including for metastatic disease.

We need meaningful action to turn the tide of the breast cancer epidemic so fewer women are diagnosed with the disease and fewer women die from breast cancer. We will continue to take action to bring the systemic changes that will end the epidemic.


  1. Posted September 13, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    WOW you hit all the nails in the shed on the head with this post!
    Great job. I couldn’t agree more with all of your points.
    I’m sharing this with my BC sistahs!

  2. caitlin
    Posted September 13, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your support and for spreading the word. We’re so glad it resonated with you–together we’ll keep on keeping on.

  3. triphazard
    Posted September 13, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    Well said, and well put – thank you. I was diagnosed here in the UK last October, and at every turn was bombarded with press telling me if I hadn’t done this/if I had done that/I’ll be fine because this celebrity was ‘cured’ after a year…. Hearing the true facts is empowering.. and more than that – shows the direction that we NEED to be going in to prevent more and more women both contracting bc, and from dying from it. I was 41 at dx, 9 years away from my first mammogram by NHS guidelines, and over here they don’t like to start mammos too early as it’s all radiation, and far less effective on dense, young breast tissue. I’d like to see ultrasound screening offered to younger women – far more thorough and likely to show up the smaller ‘worry points’ – but above all, education for young women from puberty on – on how to properly self examine, and what the signs of bc are. It’s not all about lumps, as too many of us assume before we are slapped in the face with reality. I’d like to share this with all my bc friends.. and all their daughters. Thank you x

  4. Posted September 14, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree more with your point of view however, I differ on one point: a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of getting it. There are so many chemicals in all of the food we eat today and so many excess hormones that the human body is bombarded with trying to filter it out. Eat whole, eat clean, eat organic, exercise and have balance in your life. That is the best way to prevent cancer. My cancer was detected very early and treated mostly with surgery.

  5. Deb
    Posted September 14, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Komen is great at “talking the talk,” but falls way short of “walking the walk,”

  6. Posted September 14, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Thank you for being a voice of reason. I could not agree with you more that, “We need meaningful action to turn he tide of the breast cancer epidemic so fewer women are diagnosed with the disease and fewer women die from breast cancer.”

    It’s heartening to know that we can count on you to “take action to bring the systemic changes that will end the epidemic.” That’s my promise too.

  7. Mg
    Posted September 14, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Thanks for putting truth on the page. Amazing how easily women can be led astray with the hoopla of Komen. I find Komen misleading women all over America into thinking they are funding a cure. I think Komen should put the money they crave into research. They have too many Americans fooled.
    I would greatly appreciate possible causes relatated to bc to be investigated with the money collected.
    Two time bc patient in 20 years.

  8. Adrienne Brockwell
    Posted September 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    It would be nice to live in a world where shooting ourselves full of radiation and slicing and dicing our breasts were measures reserved for the rare and few cases of cancer that break out; where we eat, drink and breathe healthfully, no matter where we live or what we know and can afford; where the myriad toxins that have colluded to create this perfect storm of breeding grounds for breast cancer have been quarantined, locked away, never again to darken our doors, our homes, our schools, our lives…

  9. Posted September 18, 2011 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Such a good post. Yes, we need action that prevents the cancer in the first place. We need action that reduces the number of women dying. Without these two things changing, our “action” thus far has not been very effective has it?

  10. Stacey Kearney
    Posted November 1, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunatly, I disagree with some of the points you have mentioned in this article Karuna. You have contradicted yourself…you say that the greatest risk for breast cancer is being a women yet just before you said it was from environmental toxins. Yes, it is definitely from chemicals in our environment, but those who do NOT have a healthy diet and lifestyle are MORE at risk for getting breast cancer. Getting ride of harmful toxins go along with eating organic foods and practicing homeopathic medicine to rid the body of these chemicals and build the immune system. We shouldn’t make women feel doomed, we should inspire them to become healthy so that they dont have to use harmful mammograms and chemotherapy!

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