Elevate Difference

From Pink to Green: Disease Prevention and the Environmental Breast Cancer Movement

...the environmental breast cancer movement is well positioned to use its breast cancer work as a way to contribute not only to the eradication of the disease itself but also to the environmental health of all humans and other living beings.

When I was diagnosed with Stage II invasive ductile carcinoma, I was angry not just because I now had cancer, but because no one seemed to be talking about its causes or, better yet, prevention. When my husband spied an opportunity for me to review From Pink to Green, I jumped at the chance: finally, someone was addressing prevention.

From Pink to Green consists of eight chapters, useful notes, and a largely accurate index of the names of researchers, cancer-related organizations, and several score topics. The first chapter, "A Movement in the Making," considers a postcard from 1994 depicting breast cancer survivor and activist Raven Light. She stands with her hand on her hip while holding a sign that reads, "Invisibility Equals Death." Light is bare-chested, her mastectomy scar exposed. The postcard says the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer increased from one in twenty in 1964 to one in eight by 1994, but what does this mean? That the incidence of breast cancer in women has tripled? That the rates of diagnosis have tripled? Both? Something else? The already visually arresting postcard implicitly asks whether the dominant paradigm of breast cancer research—diagnosis, treatment, and cure—overlooks something even more fundamental: prevention.

Ley's fascinating account is multi-sited and multi-method in scope. She volunteered in both a small, one-room office at WomenCARE (Women's Cancer Advocacy, Resources and Education) and at the American Cancer Society, and was also a research associate for the environmental health scientist Devra Lee Davis. She thus simultaneously inhabits the worlds of social activism and scientific research.

Much of the text is devoted to the science of multiple exposures to cancer-causing pathogens. Readers will appreciate how xenoestrogens "share chemical properties with the hormone estrogen and can act on the body's cells and tissue as false estrogen molecules, disrupting the ability of natural estrogen to function normally." They will be challenged to find that phthalates found in cosmetics, deodorants, shampoos, plastics are known breast cancer carcinogens and have been linked to increased rates of testicular sterility in male offspring of women using these products.

Because From Pink to Green shines the light on precautionary prevention, not secondary cure, I want to quote from Mary O'Brien, breast cancer survivor and environmental health activist: _Our breasts are simply ONE marvelous part in Earth's system... If we're going to put our bodies and our breasts back together... we're going to have to restore the hormone systems of the frogs. ... We're going to have to put estuaries, streams, grasslands, the winds and the ozone layer back together. ... We are going to have to reconstruct our agriculture so that farms are not hazardous chemical sites... we're going to have to consider what it means to know and care for children, to avoid forcing them into a world that has no room for anything but humans.__From Pink to Green_ is designed for women's studies and public health courses. I will share it with other women whom I have met through my experience with breast cancer.

Written by: Cassandra Lee, December 18th 2009

Well written review of a very important book about a timely subject. And a great way to conclude it with the quote from Mary O'Brien. Yes, it - we - everything is linked. The reports on phthalates came out just in time for Christmas toy buying, but it didn't go far enough. Research, passing the word along, and good old-fashioned grass roots activism will keep these issues on the front burner where, sooner or later, they will no longer be ignored.

Thanks for the review. The topic has begun to be addressed more frequently at medical conferences I've attended- my guess is that there are still a lot of people out there who haven't contemplated the connection between environmental and human health and hormone-disrupting chemicals.... seems obvious to me! The problem is so pervasive but the battle is uphill... hey, it is 'bad for business' to suggest we change the status quo. I will read this book and Rachel Carson's, too. Thanks, Cassandra!

Anne Kimberly

Thank you Sister for your review, it interests me to read this book. You continue to do much to awake consciousness in everyone who knows you, as well as in others beyond your local scope.

What an eye opener. As a woman, and a mother to a young girl, I am going to read this book to learn more about prevention.

I had dinner last night with a friend who's been diagnosed with myelofibrosis, shown to be related to benzene exposure. He's been out there riding his bike for years in a city laced with it: http://www.oeconline.org/our-work/kidshealth/toxics/air/benzene

Shared latkes last week with another woman who has multiple myeloma, also linked to environmental factors. There are important things we can do to prevent our exposure as individuals (i.e. foods, phthalates) but it's our communal responsibility to clean up the planet as well. Thanks for this review on an important book.

Thank you for the review of this book. I have heard about soy being a carcinogen but did not have knowledge of how it actually interacted on a cellular level.

Information is power!

Great review.

Thanks for your comments. Yes, there is much out there that can be scary, but if we inform ourselves and our children, I believe that we can and will make a difference. I credit Barbara Ley for having opened my eyes more widely and consider it my humanist duty to promote her good work and that of others.


I knew of the problems phthalates caused in males, but had no idea about their relationship to breast cancer!

To think that they are almost everywhere - and that most people have no idea what phthalates are, what they do, or where they are. No clue. It's simply terrifying.

Great review :)