We Can’t Be Pink’d: The NCI

THINK BEFORE YOU PINK® – 2020 CAMPAIGN


Monday, November 23, 2020 Updates

We did it! The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has responded to our campaign, agreeing that changes need to be made to make public the links between environmental exposures and breast cancer risks. But there’s more work to be done—the NCI only responded to one of the five requests made in our official letter to the agency. Read more about the NCI’s response and take action here.

(November 21, 2020) BCAction is in the news! On Saturday, November 21, STAT News, a leading health and science publication, published an Op-Ed on our action entitled, “The NCI needs to publish information about chemical exposure and breast cancer risk,” authored by Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Scientist Emeritus and former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and National Toxicology Program, and Scholar in Residence, Duke University, and Dr. Margaret Kripke, Professor Emerita of the MD Anderson Cancer Center and former member of the President’s Cancer Panel.

(November 17, 2020) Our official letter to the NCI was delivered on Tuesday, November 17. The letter urges the agency to update its publicly available information about breast cancer risk and prevention to include the current scientific understanding on environmental exposures, and details five necessary steps to ensure this information remains a priority moving forward.


During the third week of We Can’t Be Pink’d, we are calling out the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for their lack of information on environmental risk factors.  

The NCI is the federal government’s principal agency for cancer research and training. It oversees the largest cancer research fund in the world and hosts a leading go-to cancer information website for patients, medical care providers and the general public. But the NCI is not telling women the whole story about risks to their health!

In this year’s Think Before You Pink® campaign, we are letting the administration know that  “We Can’t Be Pink’d: Say NO to Pink Policies.” Since 2002, Breast Cancer Action has led this campaign each October in response to “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”

From the President down to agency leaders, we’re taking on the lack of leadership in addressing the breast cancer epidemic. Each week in October we’ll address one of these four agencies that needs to do better: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The NCI patient information page, where the public goes to learn about breast cancer, gives a convoluted and incomplete account of breast cancer risk factors. On one line it states “Avoiding risk factors and increasing protective factors may help prevent cancer.” Immediately after that it lists immutable breast cancer risk factors including “aging” and “an inherited risk of breast cancer.” How are we supposed to avoid aging? And it’s not like we can undo our family history. Women deserve clear information on what risk factors are modifiable and actionable.

Even more problematic, the NCI leaves out current information on environmental exposures. The website currently claims that “it is not clear” whether the environment affects breast cancer risk, failing to tell women about the growing body of evidence related to potential links between chemical exposure and breast cancer. However, a 2007 review of the science found:

“…216 chemicals were identified that have been associated with increases in mammary gland tumors…These include industrial chemicals, chlorinated solvents, products of combustion, pesticides, dyes, radiation, drinking water disinfection byproducts, pharmaceuticals and hormones, natural products, and research chemicals.”

Tell the NCI to publish all of the information on environmental links to breast cancer on their website!

Other federal agencies and working groups clearly state the problem. For example, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences concluded: “Most experts agree that breast cancer is caused by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors.”

The Institute of Medicine encouraged precaution around chemical exposures, stating: “… it may be prudent to avoid or minimize exposure because the available evidence suggests biological plausibility for exposure to be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, or there is suggestive evidence from epidemiology, or both.” Women need to know everything they can do to reduce breast cancer risk.

More than a decade ago, the President’s Cancer Panel concluded that “Public health messages should be developed and disseminated to raise awareness of environmental cancer risks and encourage people to reduce or eliminate exposures whenever possible.”

We agree. It’s time for the NCI to take the advice of the President’s Cancer Panel because women deserve the full story about environmental links to breast cancer. Without it, the NCI is allowing government and agency leaders to function under the false assumption that environmental risk factors don’t matter, while they continue to promote pink policies that claim to protect the public but instead fail to address and end the breast cancer epidemic.

Join us in saying no to pink policies. Tell the NCI to provide information on all modifiable risk factors, including environmental exposures!

30th Anniversary Update

At our 30th Anniversary Event, Radical Disruption Compassionate Resistance, Interim Executive Director Marj Plumb gave an update on this week’s actions directed at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). She shares how the We Can’t Be Pink’d campaign came to be, and how you can get involved. 

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