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Why I Don’t Wear a Pink Ribbon

no pink ribbon

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it seems everyone is wearing a pink ribbon.  I don’t and here’s why:

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First a little history:  According to Wikipedia, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month or “NBCAM was founded in 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of Imperial Chemical Industries (now part of AstraZeneca, producer of several anti-breast cancer drugs). The aim of the NBCAM from the start has been to promote mammography as the most effective weapon in the fight against breast cancer.[1]

In 1993 Evelyn Lauder, Senior Corporate Vice President of the Estée Lauder Companies founded The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and established the pink ribbon as its symbol, though this was not the first time the ribbon was used to symbolize breast cancer.[2] In the fall of 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation had handed out pink ribbons to participants in its New York City race for breast cancer survivors.[3]

So pink ribbons have come to stand for “breast cancer awareness” which is about promoting mammograms for early detection of breast cancer.  And early detection has become synonymous with prevention.  Most of us have dutifully gone for our annual mammograms which our insurance companies pay for even before deductibles because it’s “preventive.”

As a physician and as a woman, my problems with this are:

1.  I have dense breasts as do over 4o% of women.  Breast density and cancer look the same on mammograms, so mammograms are not a good screening test for cancer in dense breasts.  They can result in too many “false positives” as well as “false negatives.” Deborah Rhodes, MD and her colleagues have developed a test called Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI), which is safer, easier and 3 times better than mammography at picking up cancers.  It is FDA approved, BUT IT’S NOT CLINICALLY AVAILABLE!  Why?  Because Dr. Rhodes and her colleagues can’t leave their day jobs to work on this project full time because all of the research money and journal publication is geared toward mammography for early detection and pharmaceutical treatment.  Read an interview with Dr. Rhodes here: http://bit.ly/1DCxI1h

2.  More than 1/3 of “cancers” detected on mammograms are actually “ductal carcinoma in situ,” which, it turns out, is a non-invasive pre-cancerous condition that in 80% of cases does not progress to invasive cancer.  But, 1/3 of those women are going through surgery, radiation, and/or toxic chemotherapy to treat the “cancer.”  A good discussion of this can be found at http://bit.ly/1thTS5C

3.  Screening mammograms have always be touted as saving lives by early detection.  According to Dr. Laura Esserman, awareness and screening have led to an emphasis on early diagnosis of cancer but LATE STAGE DISEASE AND DEATH HAVE NOT DECREASED WHILE EARLY STAGE DISEASE HAS INCREASED!  She concludes that “cancer” is an extremely complex subject, that we may be over-diagnosing and over-treating “cancer” in situations that would not likely cause harm if left alone.  Her article in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is here: http://bit.ly/1wlC6hQ

4.  We know cancer is complex and can have many causal factors which can include not only genetics but also numerous carcinogenic factors that we may voluntarily take into our bodies via our food, water, air, skin care, smoking, and the radiation from X-rays including mammograms.  Here’s a good article by Madeleine Castellanos, MD on some dietary ways you may be able to reduce your risk: http://bit.ly/1CYIAEK.

5.  When you or a company donate to a large charity that supports research "for the cure," be aware that those dollars are supporting more research into mammography and pharmaceuticals.  It appears that none of them is looking at safer and more effective alternatives or support of women already dealing with breast cancer.  During a crowd-funding campaign last year, we called Susan G. Komen and others to see how and where we might donate our products for improved comfort of women in treatment for breast cancer.  The reply: "that's not what we do" with no suggestion for who might be willing to take tangible donations.

So, if mammography is an old technology that exposes a woman to damaging radiation AND it's not been effective at preventing late-stage cancers and death AND it's inferior to newer technologies for differentiating cancerous tissue from normal dense breast tissue, wouldn't you think anyone searching for a cure would be looking for new technologies?  And wouldn't you think there would be more emphasis on true prevention of habits and exposures that can increase our risk?

I’m on a rant.  I am not advising you to not get a mammogram or to not wear a pink ribbon.  Nor do I want to undermine any treatment decisions you may have already made.  As always, I want you to do your own research and make the best informed decisions you can.  Never assume that ANYONE, even your doctor, knows what’s right for you.  It’s your body, your life, and your relationship with your doctor.  You’re the one who makes the decisions.

As for me, I’ll go for my annual physical this week and I’m sure my doctor will recommend a mammogram.  I’ve had many.  This year, I think I will say no and research further the possibility of Molecular Breast Imaging.  I may be willing to travel and pay for a test that looks to be safer, more sensitive, and more sensible than mammography.  And, to be as sure as I can that I’m not ingesting hormones, pesticides, or other toxic chemicals that could increase my risk for cancer and all kinds of other problems, I’ll continue my gluten-free, low-carbohydrate diet of local organic vegetables and fruits, organic nuts and seeds, local grass-fed or wild game, local eggs, and fresh raw milk straight from the neighborhood cows.  I’ll also avoid foods and drinks in disposable plastic containers which contain BPA.

I’ll keep you posted as I learn more…

I know I’m touching on some sensitive and controversial topics here.  What are your thoughts?  What experiences have you had?  Let’s get a discussion going!  Please leave a comment.

22 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Wear a Pink Ribbon ”

  • Brooke

    This is utterly refreshing! I so appreciate your candor, and your info here as well as all the links to more. Breast cancer (as all cancers) has become big business, and that's not good news.

    I tell you what's controversial - Susan G. Komen foundation just did a bizzarro stunt - endorsing pink FRACKING bits - for breast cancer awareness? There is plenty of evidence that fracking chemicals cause cancer. This whole "industry" -and those benefiting who aren't people with breast cancer -needs a fresh look with more discerning eyes.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/health/cancer/pink-drill-bits-bring-complaints-komen-tie-fracking-n223166

    We really do need to identify people/entitities who are doing actual research on new/better technologies, or reviving those that have been suppressed by big pharma/AMA, and support them all the way!

    Reply
    • Debra J. Solomon, M.D.
      Debra J. Solomon, M.D. October 23, 2014 at 8:00 PM

      I couldn't agree with you more, Brooke! That incident with Komen was so beyond bizarre that I didn't mention it! My point was not as much to dis specific fundraisers as it was to get this discussion going! Thanks for taking the bait and weighing in! I really think the Molecular Breast Imaging needs to see the light of day...

      Reply
  • Annis

    I had breast cancer when I was 33. I had no family history. I had a lumpectomy. Had radiation. Ate brown rice for a while. When the woman who ran the local health food store got breast cancer, I realized we can all only do so much and then it's the luck of the draw. We're all going to get something and as it turns out 24 years later breast cancer wasn't so bad after all. I drink some wine, eat chocolate, eat gluten-free and organic when I can but I don't sweat it. I don't check my breasts, I get a mammogram now and again and choose to live happily. Cancer is BIG business. who in their right mind would want to stop that corporate machine with something as silly as a cure? I don't donate to breast cancer charities or runs or support anything Pink except the documentary Pink Ribbon Inc. Thanks for this insight Debra. Greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • Debra J. Solomon, M.D.
      Debra J. Solomon, M.D. October 23, 2014 at 8:04 PM

      Annis, I so appreciate your perspective and I'm going to check out that documentary immediately! Thanks for the tip!

      Reply
  • Nyk Danu

    THANK YOU! This so needed to be said! I also have dense tissue and have been told for years that a mammogram would be useless for me. However you wouldn't believe the fight I had with the lab when I was getting an ultra sound done with out a mammogram. I finally actually had to tell them that I not them was the boss of my boobs!
    I am so glad you wrote this ( hands clapping wildly).

    Reply
    • Debra J. Solomon, M.D.
      Debra J. Solomon, M.D. October 24, 2014 at 10:04 AM

      Yes, Nyk, the system is totally rigged toward mammograms! I'll keep updating as I learn more about alternatives for us dense-breasted women. Thanks so much for weighing in!

      Reply
      • Helayne

        Thank you for your insightful essay. What is your opinion of thermography? While it's got its share of false negative and positives, I believe it to be far more reliable and informative than a mammogram. After all, an inflamed or overly estrogenated breast is a breast that is ripe for breast caner, so why not find out about it as early as possible, and work to lower your risk?

        -Helayne Waldman, author, The Whole Food Guide for Breast Cancer Survivors
        www.wholefoodguideforbreastcacer.com

        Reply
        • Debra J. Solomon, M.D.
          Debra J. Solomon, M.D. December 2, 2014 at 7:12 AM

          Helayne,

          I'm actually looking into thermography for myself as I agree it may be the best available alternative to mammogram. From what I understand, it's not nearly as accurate as molecular breast imaging, especially for dense breasts. But it's a moot point, since MBI is not available in real life. Ironically, the doctor who developed it refuses to profit from it, but I imagine her well-intentioned egalitarian and anti-capitalistic approach has stymied progress in bringing it to market.

          I totally agree with you that we all need to keep our risk as low as possible for breast cancer (and so many other maladies) with healthy diet, etc. Thanks for your link and thanks so much for weighing in!

          Reply
  • Margaret-Jane Howe

    Thank you for your article. Time some alternatives and facts about Breast Cancer Chemical/Mammogram Style were said in the face of some people who react to alternative points of view about Breast Cancer as lunacy, it being uncaring about women with "real" cancer, stupidity because medics know best, and just plain criticism and judgement. An alternative point of view is just that - and needs to be said. It's not a criticism of Breast Awareness Week. In fact it's adding value to it, if only people were open to the alternatives instead of one track mammogram, surgery, chemotherapy. When one has the prognosis that something is wrong in the breast, panic and fear is often the reaction. One needs to know there are other ways of understanding breast lump detection. When it happened to me I felt the trauma of the news and the fear as surgeons began to plan to operate on me. A little voice in me said detox. So I made them wait till after I'd done a detox. I did the whole bentonite clay detox for 10 days with vits and juices. When I returned a month later the Breast Clinic Medical Specialists who were wanting to operate couldn't find the original lumps, by ultrasound or MRI, and wouldn't discuss it. The Breast Cancer senior nurse whispered in my ear - take lots of evening primrose oil. That was 14 years ago. I haven't gotten breast cancer, even though it was detected on the medical records, and haven't got any cancer since. I've done detoxes several times over the subsequent years. My sisters (two) have had breast cancer and had breasts removed. All my aunties (4) had it and several first cousins died of breast cancer. We have been identified as a high risk family. As a life choice I eat organic food, keep off dairy and sugar, minimal alcohol, and exercise quite a lot for someone of my age - over 60. My family doesn't show interest in my alternative health ideas nor shares my story with anyone (they share their stories about breast cancer sharing the fear and worry about what will happen to others in our family), my doctor/s doesn't want to know, my friends who are doctors don't want to know. I have a success - proven by before and after - but they don't want to know. Toxin free, organic vitamin rich food, and oxygen from exercise, go a long way to beating cancer without spending money on drugs and mammograms.

    Reply
    • Debra J. Solomon, M.D.
      Debra J. Solomon, M.D. October 24, 2014 at 10:47 AM

      Thanks for your story, Margaret-Jane. I too have breast cancer in my family, so it's an issue close to my heart. I'm not opposed to screening if it's safe and effective, but mammography just doesn't cut it for me any more. Your health ideas should not be what we refer to as "alternative." They're good sound health practices, but I'm afraid health care in our country is not about that any more as it has been hijacked by moneyed interests who play on our fears. I'm sorry your family, friends and doctors can't see your light.

      Reply
  • Phyllis

    Having never heard of Molecular Breast Imaging, I want to learn more. With no history of any kind of cancer in my family I have had three false positive mammograms. The first one had me frightened and worried about my daughters growing up without a mother. The second one had me complaining, "Not Again." But by the time the third one came along, I decided that the call-back mammogram and/or ultrasound visit was making money for somebody. So am I too cynical or just another dense breasted woman? I'd rather have dense breasts than a dense brain.

    Reply
    • Debra J. Solomon, M.D.
      Debra J. Solomon, M.D. October 24, 2014 at 4:06 PM

      Phyllis, a dense brain is not one of your attributes! I don't think MBI is available yet so I may opt for thermography this time--I'll keep you posted...

      Reply
  • Kate

    Love it! couldn't agree more Debra. Thanks for such a clear, honest post. I wrote a post expressing my own feelings on it last year. Hope you don't mind me sharing.
    http://www.katepowe.com/health/are-we-just-paying-lip-service-to-what-true-health-means/

    Reply
    • Debra J. Solomon, M.D.
      Debra J. Solomon, M.D. October 25, 2014 at 8:22 PM

      Kate, I read your article and the comment thread; we sure are on the same page!! Thank you so much for the link!!

      Reply
  • Tawny

    Thank you for sharing!! This is wonderful.

    For years, I felt like such a downer when I would tell people that I don't support big businesses who's products are full of chemicals that pollute our bodies.

    Let's shift the focus to being so healthy cancer has no chance.

    This is refreshing to read. Much appreciated!

    Love.
    Tawny

    Reply
    • Debra J. Solomon, M.D.
      Debra J. Solomon, M.D. October 25, 2014 at 8:26 PM

      Tawny, thank you so much for weighing in! I've clearly tapped into a very strong current among women who are fed up with the status quo!! And I completely agree with the need to focus on being healthy--which is what we each have the power to do!

      Reply
  • Michael

    Debra,

    Saw you on Harvard Reunion FB page. You look exactly as I remember you from 30+ years ago!

    I really appreciate your insights into natural health! Blessings to you. I know as a physician you are in a very difficult position to speak out about this.

    My father is a major apologist for corporate medicine. As is my Harvard roommate Ira Nash. No room outside the box for them.

    I am SO encouraged to see what you are up to!

    I have had some experience with energy healing. All I know is that the old model of medicine seems more and more like sickness management and perpetuation than true health promotion.

    I am thankful that someone from my class has tried to reach beyond the normal paradigm to really think boldly and creatively!

    Are you familiar with thermograms?

    This is someone in Colorado who is a big promoter of them. A former Air Force doctor too!
    http://www.betterbreasthealthforlife.com/AboutUs.htm

    Many BlesSings to you,
    Michael Korn
    Lowell House 1980

    Reply
    • Debra J. Solomon, M.D.
      Debra J. Solomon, M.D. October 31, 2014 at 11:29 AM

      Michael, you rock!! Thank you for finding me, for encouraging me, and for the link re. thermography. I'm leaning in that direction for myself because I can't find Molecular Breast Imaging available anywhere! I think it's a more sensitive and specific technology for picking up early cancers, particularly in dense breasts. But, interestingly, the doctor who developed it and spoke of it in a TED talk swore she would never take a dime for it. As a result, it seems she's stuck in her day job and the technology has gone nowhere. I may just write her an open letter and rally some energy behind it...

      Reply
  • Dances with Elk
    Dances with Elk November 1, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    One has to wonder what a behemoth organization like Komen for the Cure would do if they actually found a cure for breast cancer. I suspect they would bury as fast as they could rather than give up their raison d'etre.

    Offhand, I can't think of a charitable organization that has actually met its goal and dissolved voluntarily - e.g. there are still Haitian earthquake and Katrina funds.. Pretty sorry track record for the thousands of charities that have formed. Nor can I think of one that has ever said, "We have all the money we can put to good use at the moment. Remember us next year, but for now, donate to another cause." By and large, institutions behave like organisms, and spend a great deal of energy on self-preservation. Thus most of them are in the "make the contributor feel good" business. This applies equally to charities, investment houses, banks governments and endowment funds. The presumption - never revisited - is that consuming more food (i.e. money) and effecting more growth is somehow supportive of the original core purpose.When the same thing happens within an organism, we call it "cancer."

    Reply
    • Debra J. Solomon, M.D.
      Debra J. Solomon, M.D. December 13, 2014 at 9:24 AM

      Wow, Dances with Elk, it took a while to fully digest your rich and insightful comment! What an irony that the very organizations that purport to help or find cures for cancer tend to mimic the very same uncontrolled growth patterns we see in cancers! It would seem that our society suffers malignancies far beyond the cells of our bodies!

      Reply
  • Lisa Tener

    Wow, Debra, is that ever eye opening. The thought that people are treating conditions that might never become cancer when they could change their diet and lifestyle instead of invasive/poisonous treatments is shocking. Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
    • Debra J. Solomon, M.D.
      Debra J. Solomon, M.D. November 16, 2014 at 12:45 PM

      Thanks for your comment, Lisa! It's great to have you on board! This piece has been my most popular to date; it seems women--and men--have been hungry for new perspectives, especially from a medical insider...

      Reply
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