Exposed: The mammogram myth and the pinkwashing of America

“Exposed: The mammogram myth and the pinkwashing of America.” By Jennifer Lunden, Orion.

 

PART ONE: THE DIAGNOSIS 

ON THE DAY of my first mammogram, I walked through the sliding glass doors of the gleaming new hospital and fought the urge to turn right back around. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something wrong about this rite of passage. Nevertheless, I navigated a series of carpet-lined hallways to the Women’s Imaging Center and gave my name to the receptionist behind the glass. With an air of indifference, she led me to a small, windowless room, directed me to change into a johnny, and told me to wait for the mammography tech, Gert, to come fetch me. On the table to my right, beside a lacy pink photo album containing snapshots of flowers, lay Be a Survivor: Your Guide to Breast Cancer Treatment. I was forty-one years old, my nurse practitioner had urged me in for a baseline, and there I sat, complying.

PART TWO: THE CURE

THE NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE’S online breast cancer risk-assessment calculator asks just nine questions. When I plugged in my information, I learned, perhaps predictably given the limited survey, that my results were exactly average. At age forty-one, my risk of breast cancer was 0.7 percent. While I was relieved to see that my risk was so low, overall I was disappointed with the experience, because the risk-assessment calculator did not ask what I have come to know are very important questions when calculating a woman’s risk for breast cancer. For instance, it didn’t ask about my history of radiation exposure from X-rays, CT scans, and airport scanners. It did not ask how many cosmetic products I wear, whether I am exposed to air fresheners, what kinds of cleaning products I use. It didn’t ask if I’ve used birth control pills, and if so, for how long. There were no questions at all about endocrine-disrupting compounds or carcinogens. And none about my diet, my body-mass index, or how much I exercise. Despite the prominence of breast cancer in our media and our culture, these questions are largely missing from the conversation.

GIVEN THE COMPLEX WEB of industries with their hands in the breast cancer money pot, it’s not hard to see that a focus on prevention would threaten to collapse the whole enterprise. It’s a shell game of monumental proportions. These masters of illusion instill us with fear, then with a little sleight of hand distract us from the real problem. And the real problem is that the majority of breast cancers are triggered by environmental factors, including exposures to toxicants. And toxicants are everywhere.

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