Breast Cancer Action says IOM Report misses important opportunities to turn the tide on the epidemic

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.

This entry was posted in BCA News, Press Releases.

One Response to Breast Cancer Action says IOM Report misses important opportunities to turn the tide on the epidemic

  • num1 says:

    Unfortunately, I have to disagree with BCA’s stance here. Just because the cause(s) of maybe half of breast cancer cases haven’t been figured out does not automatically mean it’s the environment. I also take issue with the under-emphasis on lifestyle and personal choices and them being framed as “having an extremely small effect…” Weight loss/healthy weight maintenance and exercise are HUGELY important as they vastly reduce circulating estrogen levels over time and are effective as both primary and secondary prevention, especially when undertaken in youth. And they’re CERTAINLY better options than taking antiestrogen drugs, which have side effects. Breast cancer is not an epidemic in younger women in the US – rates here are the same as they are in younger women all over the world and the disease remains uncommon before age 40. It’s the perimenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer rates that are higher here and that is primarily due to hormonal factors, such as delayed childbearing and the “epidemic” of obesity and HRT use by women. I think this IOM report, which removes the emotional perceptions of this disease, was very responsible. It doesn’t mean that the environment is off the hook totally unscathed and shouldn’t been continuously evaluated, it just means we need to focus on the things we known can make a dent in breast cancer. And BCA shouldn’t downplay existing science (ie lifestyle recs) because that actually shortchanges the very audience (breast cancer pts) who may turn to this organization for guidance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.