Are Charities Doing Enough To Fight Breast Cancer?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and the ubiquitous pink ribbon is on everything from yogurt to t-shirts to the jacket lapels. Even the NFL is involved with players wearing pink wristbands and cleats to bring attention to the disease. But, not everyone is ready to jump on the bandwagon. Critics say that Susan G. Komen For the Cure, the world's largest breast cancer charity, and other organizations aren't doing enough. Guest host Jacki Lyden speaks with Barbara Brenner, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, a education and advocacy group for the breast cancer movement.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

From the threat of disease in Haiti to the effort to stop a leading cause of death among women in the U.S., it's pretty difficult to avoid knowing that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The seemingly ubiquitous pink ribbon that's on everything from yogurt to T-shirts to labels is really - even on the NFL helmets.

Throughout the month, a good number of football players have been wearing pink wristbands and cleats too to bring attention to the disease. Not everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon, though. Critics say that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, the world's largest breast cancer charity and other organizations aren't doing enough. And we'll hear from the Komen Foundation itself and see if the organization feels it could be doing more for breast cancer research.

First, though, we turn to Barbara Brenner, she's the executive director of Breast Cancer Action, an education and advocacy group for the breast cancer movement. Welcome.

Ms. BARBARA BRENNER (Executive Director, Breast Cancer Action): Glad to be with you.

LYDEN: So, Barbara, let me ask you, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the CDC, breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer in women and it's the leading cause of death in Latina women. So, what concerns you about Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

Ms. BRENNER: It's too pretty a picture, frankly. Awareness we have, the question is, what are we doing about it? And when companies can just slap a pink ribbon on any product, then we're in trouble, because many of those products don't do anything for breast cancer. And many of them are actually harmful to our health.

LYDEN: Like what?

Ms. BRENNER: Well, some of the cosmetics we buy have a lot of toxins in them. Avon sells them, Estee Lauder sells them, Revlon sells them. They have failed to clean up their products in the U.S. in the way they have in the European market. That's one example.

Another example is earlier this year, the Komen Foundation partnered with KFC.

LYDEN: The Kentucky Fried Chicken people?

Ms. BRENNER: Yes, Kentucky Fried Chicken and the nutritionists went nuts. You can't sell pink bucketed chicken that's bad for your health to raise money to help breast cancer. It's just a bad message.

LYDEN: Now, we mentioned that Susan G. Komen Foundation is the largest breast cancer charity in the world. Do you think they should shoulder some of the blame for not making people fully aware of how prevalent the disease is?

Ms. BRENNER: Well, no, I think they've been very effective in telling people how prevalent the disease is. That's not the problem.

LYDEN: What do you want them to do?

Ms. BRENNER: We want them to market with less aggressiveness with companies that are bad for our health and we want them to tell the real story behind breast cancer, which is second leading cause of death in American women, leading cause of death women 25 to 50. We're losing 40,000 women a year. And you see the messages of pink ribbons everywhere and you think the problems is solved.

We get messages at Breast Cancer Action saying, well, with all this marketing and all this money being raised, the problem is solved, work on something else. And if shopping could cure breast cancer, it would be cured by now.

LYDEN: I mean, it is hard to argue with the amount of the money that the Komen Foundation is able to raise, and they can't possibly be letting all of it go to waste. Would you say that they're doing at least more good than harm by raising this much money?

Ms. BRENNER: Well, raising the money is only part of the question. Part of the question is what do they do with the money? So much money is raised for breast cancer research and has been, why haven't we made more progress?

LYDEN: Why do you think?

Ms. BRENNER: Well, I think because we're not spending the money the right way. And addressing the environmental links and starting to talk about the inequities in our society that are leading to the outcomes in African-American communities where less women get breast cancer, they're more likely to die. Or in the Latino community where the numbers are just going up and up and up. We can't keep saying to people, more awareness. We're aware already, but of what?

LYDEN: If people don't want to donate or buy products made in China that sensibly are meant to donate or remind people about breast cancer research, what can they do if they want to do something?

Ms. BRENNER: Well, if they want to do something, they can certainly get involved with a local organization or an organization like Breast Cancer Action, which is actually addressing the underlying problems here. They can buy another product and write to the company's marketing and saying, not good enough. You know, one of the problems we have is that people buy the pink ribbon product and they're done. So do a little investigation, find out who's doing the best work and support that in whatever way you can.

LYDEN: Barbara Brenner is the executive director of Breast Cancer Action. She was first diagnosed with cancer in 1993. She's currently living symptom free and joined us from San Francisco. Thank you again.

Ms. BRENNER: Thank you.

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