Letter to the Biden-Harris administration on addressing and ending breast cancer

By The Breast Cancer Action Team; Krystal Redman, DrPH, Executive Director; Jayla Burton, MPH, MS, Program Manager; Tibby Reas Hinderlie, Communications Manager; Lopa Pal, Development Manager; Zoe Christopher, Program Officer & Operations Manager; Heather Stone, Development & Communications Associate

Wednesday, March 17 2021

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
NW Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris,

Breast Cancer Action (BCAction) is a national, feminist, grassroots education and advocacy organization and we are writing to you on behalf of people living with and at risk of breast cancer. For 30 years we have worked to establish systemic interventions that will address the root causes of the disease and produce broad public health benefits. Over 300 of our members have signed-on to a petition asking that your administration take meaningful action by following the recommendations we have outlined below.

In the United States, approximately 15 million people are living with cancer, and breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women. [1],[2] In the 1960s, a woman’s lifetime risk for breast cancer was 1 in 20. Today, a woman’s lifetime risk is 1 in 8.[3] These statistics not only indicate a failure in progress, but also show how likely we all are to personally be impacted by this devastating disease.  We ask that your administration make addressing and ending breast cancer a priority, and we urge you to do so with the mutual understanding that this is a public health crisis and a social justice issue. You can make this a priority by:

1. Addressing systemic racism. Breast cancer must be addressed through a racial justice and health equity lens. According to the U.S Center for Disease Control, Black women are 40% more likely to die from the disease than white women.[4] Latina women are 20% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women diagnosed at a similar age and stage. These disparities are rooted in systemic racism and discriminatory policies and practices in our healthcare systems, our environmental practices and policies, and in our economic systems that result in disproportionate harm for communities of color.

2. Increasing transparency and accountability. There is a significant lack of accountability and an absence of transparency in our regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The FDA uses inadequate standards to regulate drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, personal care products, food chemicals, and food packaging. Allowing everyday products on the market that contain untested, harmful chemicals leaves patients and consumers uninformed, misinformed, and at risk for health complications including breast cancer. The administration must use its authority to strengthen the FDA to hold manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies accountable.

The focus on immutable breast cancer risk factors such as gender, aging, or inherited genetics will never alter the incidence rates of breast cancer. There is a growing body of evidence linking toxic chemicals to this disease. In 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel reported that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated [and] . . . the American people—even before they are born—are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.”[5] In less than four years, the Trump Administration dismantled over 70 critical rules and regulations at the EPA that protected our air, water, soil, and vulnerable communities.[6] The previous administration’s efforts to undermine the agency and public health science disregarded human health, increased exposure to known and suspected carcinogens, and minimized the severity of root causes of breast cancer. We need an agency that will reverse the previous administration’s rollbacks that expose us to harmful chemicals in our air, soil, and water. 

3. Focusing on primary prevention. Over half of women living with breast cancer have no known risk factors and, as mentioned above, there is a growing body of evidence linking toxic involuntary exposures to increased breast cancer risk. The National Cancer Institute (NCI), the government’s leading agency on cancer, erroneously claims it “is not clear” whether the environment affects breast cancer. In research and funding priorities, the administration must focus on policy decisions through a primary prevention lens: a strong and effective safety standard must be based on the precautionary principle. This means acting before definitive scientific harm is recorded, to reduce and eliminate practices that are suspected of causing harm to human health or the environment.

4. Ensuring better breast cancer treatments. This means developing treatments that are more effective and less toxic. This can be done by appointing a leader of the FDA who will restore the scientific integrity of the agency and ensure new breast cancer drugs and treatments are proven to be safe before hitting the market. We need someone who will impose regulations on the FDA that increase drug safety and efficacy and decrease drug costs. In addition, we ask that you revisit, initiate, and support independent, government-funded research that may have been deemed insufficient or unworthy by pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

5. Enacting universal healthcare. The previous administration made numerous attempts to destroy the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which has been vital to eliminating unfair policy cancellations and ending annual and lifetime limits of coverage for breast cancer patients. Although the ACA has made strides in improving healthcare and expanding access to healthcare services, the end goal should be universal, high quality, affordable, and comprehensive healthcare for all.

Breast Cancer Action looks forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration to make sure breast cancer remains a priority, and we would love to have a meeting with your team and other breast cancer leaders to discuss how we can collaboratively implement our shared vision of a nation without breast cancer.


The Breast Cancer Action Team

[1] National Cancer Institute (2020). Cancer stats facts: Cancer of any site. Retrieved from: https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/all.html

[2] Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Basic information about breast cancer. retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/index.htm#:~:text=Deaths%20from%20breast%20cancer%20have,and%20about%202%2C300%20in%20men.

[3] National Cancer Institute. (2020). Breast cancer risk in American women. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/risk-fact-sheet

[4] Richardson, L., Henley, J. Miller, J., Massetti, G., Thomas, C. (2016). Patterns and trends in age-specific black-white differences in breast cancer incidence and mortality- United States, 1999-2014. MMWR Morbi Mortal Weekly Report 2016;65:1093. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6540a1external icon.

[5] Leffall,L., Kripke, M. (2010). Reducing environmental cancer risk: What we can do now. 2008-2009 Annual Presidents Cancer Panel. Retrieved from: https://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualreports/pcp08-09rpt/pcp_report_08-09_508.pdf

[6] Popovich, N., Albeck-ripka,L., Pierre-Louis, K., (2021). The Trump Administrations Rolled Back More Than 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the full list. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks-list.html

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5 Responses to Letter to the Biden-Harris administration on addressing and ending breast cancer

  • lori berlin, RN says:

    As a Public Health Nurse, I couldn’t agree with this approach more.

  • BCAction Letter to Biden Harris Admin

    Breast cancer requires a health justice approach that ties together healthcare, environmental, racial, economic, and gender justice.

    This means stopping cancer where it starts—divesting public money & infrastructure from fossil fuel private profiteering & cleaning up toxic spills & dirty energy industries rooted in environmental racism nationwide. It also means regulating hormone disrupters in plastics, flame retardants, cosmetics, foods, furniture, workplace, & household items that are exposing low income & poor people, people of color, & female-anatomied people unequally.

    This means treating breast & all cancers more humanely, effectively, and affordably once diagnosed—making sure healthcare for people with cancer is universally & affordably insured as a basic public utility. It also means addressing the gaps in quality of healthcare & cancer care provision nationwide which data overwhelmingly shows are racially unjust, feminized, & centered on LGBTQ, immigrant, & economically disadvantaged patient groups. This also means ensuring from leadership on down that the FDA only approves cancer drugs that *actually* improve length of overall survival, reduce toxic side effects, or are markedly more affordable than what’s currently on the market for cancer patients (not bending to pharmaceutical & biotech industry pressure on safety regulators to inaccurately conflate “new” with effective, wherein money is made on the backs of advanced cancer patients’ undue suffering).

    Health justice also means cancer research entities that take seriously the underrepresented areas of intervention needed, beyond a financial “moonshot” boost to biotech and genetics-only research. Our nation’s top scientists must address: the overwhelming links between myriad environmental exposures and cancer incidence/severity; the socioeconomic & racial differences in cancer incidence/severity
    & health outcomes nationwide; and the need for more well-funded, holistic & multimodal care for psychosocial support & pain relief amidst advanced cancer treatment, for all types of patients.

    Clarity is needed from the Biden Harris administration on its commitments on each of these fronts. We thank you now for acting accordingly for all our futures, and for the legacy of people like my mom and best friend Barbara Garlock—who got breast cancer at 46 after growing up near a superfund pollution site & experiencing a temporary gap in insurance coverage between jobs in the healthcare industry, lived 7 years with stage IV metastatic breast cancer thanks to multimodal care & health justice advocacy on behalf of people like her, & died at just 53 as a result of cancer drugs that were understudied by the FDA for their off-label use for breast cancer.

    So, we ask, in the name of our loved ones, and yours: Will you pose for pictures with convenient philanthropic & corporate partners who pinkwash? Or will you stand & act for the long haul with communities most impacted by breast cancer inequities, using your leadership capacity to enact system-wide changes for health, environmental, and healthcare justice?

  • Megan McCann says:

    I full endorse health equity measures and addressing systemic racism as a priority in breast cancer research and care.

  • Dolores says:

    Thank you for sending the letter to president Biden I have breast cancer is a recurrence I’m going true chemotherapy and is horrible.god bless you

  • Beth Jane Freeman says:

    Cancer affects people of all races. This is why treatments and prevention must be equally available to people of all races.

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