IOM report misses important opportunities to turn the tide on the epidemic

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We’re currently at the 2011 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, providing recaps and analysis of information coming out of the symposium. To read our summaries, you can visit our BCAction website. We wanted to share with you our reaction to a new report on the environment and breast cancer that was released at the symposium yesterday.

For immediate release
December 7th, 2011

Contact:  Angela Wall, Communications Manager (415) 243-9301 x16

SAN FRANCISCO, CA–Breast Cancer Action (BCAction), the respected watchdog of the breast cancer movement, responded with disappointment to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on Breast Cancer and the Environment: A Life Course Approach released today at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS).

The IOM was asked to review the current evidence on breast cancer and the environment, consider gene-environment interactions, review challenges in investigating environmental contributions to breast cancer, explore evidence-based actions that women might take to reduce their risk and recommend research in all of these areas.

“The IOM Report fails to turn the tide on this epidemic because it misses some important opportunities to implement real changes” said Breast Cancer Action’s Executive Director Karuna Jaggar, commenting from SABCS.  “They too broadly define the environment as all factors not directly inherited through DNA which includes anything from genetic changes to tissue, to stress, to lifestyle choices and changes in abdominal fat rather than the chemicals we are all exposed to in our everyday lives.”

Breast Cancer Action is deeply disappointed in the report which fails to advance research on breast cancer and the environment and shed light on the 70% of breast cancer diagnoses for which there are no known risk factors. “The report recommendations for women merely rehash the little bit we already know about lifestyle and breast cancer and miss an opportunity to focus on relatively unknown areas of the environment,” said Jaggar.

The report correctly identifies methodological challenges in data collection establishing links between environmental factors and breast cancer. “In medical science, the gold standard of evidence is random controlled experiments on humans; however, as the report rightly points out conducting random controlled experiments on the effect of toxins on women would be immoral and impermissible. We must find alternatives that enable us to take action.” Jaggar stated that “we need to adopt the gold standard of prevention and that’s the precautionary principle because waiting for absolute proof is killing us. Instead, the IOM shrugged the burden of prevention onto women’s lifestyle choices.”

IOM committee member Dr. Robert A. Hiatt stated at SABCS that if women follow the recommendations of the IOM report “we don’t even know whether they will actually reduce their risk.”Jaggar adamantly argued that “we don’t need reports that dink around with lifestyle choices—more exercise, less alcohol, avoiding excess weight, don’t smoke, etc.—which have at best an extremely small role in reducing breast cancer risk and which fail to acknowledge that not all women have equal access to healthy lifestyle choices. We need to apply precautionary principles that stop cancer before it starts.”


Breast Cancer Action (—a national non-profit education and advocacy organization refuses to accept funding from pharmaceutical companies or any other organizations that profit from or contribute to the breast cancer epidemic.


  1. Posted December 8, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I find it rather interesting that the IOM’s report was solely sponsored by the Komen organization at a cost of $1M. The findings should strengthen their mission to maintain the pink status quo and keep feeding the idea that our breast cancer is our fault.

    Way to spend $1M !!!!!!!

  2. Posted December 8, 2011 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I was surprised that only $1M was spent on this study. I think BC organizations should pool their money for research. I know it matters to the organizations if they can say “their” money went to specific research. I realize that’s how they get their donations, based on the research they help fund.

    But wouldn’t it be nice if all BC money raised went into one big pot from which all studies dipped? I know I’m dreaming. But I’m just sayin’.

  3. Posted December 9, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    The following update is significant on a number of levels. For me personally, it amplifies the frustration that I contend with in not knowing / understanding the hows and whys I sit here today with metastatic breast cancer – as I, like so many women have no identifiable risk factors. No “life-style” risk factors what-so-ever; and at the initial stages of my diagnosis over 2 years ago, I went through genetic testing (I needed to know for my 3 children) just to confirm that my DNA was not predisposed. Nothing.

    Generally, what is currently not going on at the SABCS, informs me that either the medical community is — at best, still stymied (by the breast cancer industry, maybe?) or at worst, not genuinely interested, in making any real head way in proactively identifying and addressing the true environmental causes for the increase in incidences of breast cancer – especially in developed countries.

    Feeding the personal and general concerns is that this Symposium is reportedly being funded, solely by…Susan G. Komen.

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