Donna Roberts and Janine O’Leary Cobb

(with excerpts from Rachel’s Health and Environment Newsletter)

As we approach our Annual General Meeting, Breast Cancer Action Montreal is in the middle of marking ten years of advocacy, education and networking on behalf of women with breast cancer. Many of you attended our featured 10th anniversary event last April 26th at Concordia University. For those of you missed it or would like a record of the evening for yourself or to share with friends, the following is a review of some of the highlights of that evening. We welcomed back BCAM co-founder, Sharon Batt, now living in Halifax, and a globally-recognized advocate, journalist and author of Patient No More, and introduced to our members Dr. Janette Sherman, author of Life’s Delicate Balance — A Guide to Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer. Both speakers emphasized the fact that breast cancer is a political and economic issue, as well as a public health issue, and its eradication requires no less than a transformation of social values.

President Rose Alper spoke first to welcome all those in attendance and then introduced our moderator, journalist and professor Peter Downie, well-known for his years of work on various CBC radio and television programs.

The first speaker was Janette Sherman, medical doctor, scientist and passionate humanitarian. She questioned the excessive amount of hormonally-active chemicals already inflicted upon an unsuspecting population and environment. Could it be, she asked, that growth hormones administered to cattle just prior to slaughter pass into commercially sold meat, milk, cheese and yogurt? Might this indiscriminate use of hormones in animals also cause unnatural growth and obesity in humans? Could those who enjoy wine, beer and liquor be absorbing excessive amounts of pesticides sprayed on grain and grapes, thus damaging cell growth? How is our health affected by living in a pesticide-laden world?

Dr. Sherman suggested we consider having a blood test to detect our own levels of xenobiotic chemicals, such as PCBs, dioxins, DDT/DDE, chlordane, heptachlor and others known to cause breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. The blood test is available through the U. S. laboratory, Accu-Chem, in Richardson, Texas. The telephone number is 800-747-2878. (They will provide information about the kinds of glass tubes and mailing materials needed, as well as fees.)

Dr. Sherman is also involved in the Tooth Fairy Project which collects baby teeth to test for levels of radioactive Strontium 90 (Sr-90), one of the deadliest elements released by nuclear facilities. Determining the amount of radioactivity entering our bones is crucial for deciding whether nuclear power plants and weapons facilities affect health and contribute to North America’s cancer incidence. Results may be able to demonstrate higher levels near certain nuclear facilities.

Because the chemical structure of Sr-90 is similar to calcium, the body blindly deposits Sr-90 in the bones and teeth where it continues to emit cancer-causing radiation. (Most of the strontium in baby teeth is transferred to the fetus by the mother during pregnancy.) Studies already show that, just two years after a nuclear plant closes, infant mortality rates in the area are significantly decreased while women living near nuclear power plants suffer elevated breast cancer rates.

Sharon Batt traced the beginnings of BCAM to a time when breast cancer survivors spoke of their disease only to intimates, and when breast cancer organizations were expected to be handmaidens to research, raising funds for the ‘experts’ with no voice in how that money was spent. This expectation evaporated during the 1993 National Forum on Breast Cancer, here in Montreal, when the women from BCAM pressed successfully for the inclusion of survivors in the decision-making process. She suggested that BCAM has perhaps been defined by the issues it chooses to engage: the structure of government-imposed mammography screening programs; the widespread acceptance of certain drugs — high-dose chemotherapy, Taxol, Herceptin; and the drawbacks to genetic screening, such as the possibilities of discrimination against women who receive positive results from such tests.

She also spoke about the kind of social values that put profits ahead of the health and well-being of its citizens. Members of BCAM continue to challenge the status quo — the pharmaceutical industry’s grip on medicine and its influence on the drug-approval process — both of which contribute to an erosion of trust in the medical system and the government agencies that are meant to protect us.

She urged BCAM to continue to press for research into less toxic, more affordable treatments for breast cancer, for ways in which to increase public awareness and concern about the role of environmental pollutants as a root cause of cancers and concluded that BCAM has strong allies in several social movements — including the environmental movement (particularly the social justice component), the feminist movement (in its critique of North America’s “masculine” health model), and the growing public health movement.

For more information on the baby tooth study, contact the Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP) at (305) 532-5565 or e-mail jbbrown@icanect.net Envelopes (for mothers of children ages 6 to 9, now losing their baby teeth) are available in the office.

Life’s Delicate Balance—The Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer by Janette Sherman, M.D., is published by Taylor & Francis (New York and London, 2000), ISBN 1-56032-870-3