9 June, 2021

Breast Cancer UK has now been at the forefront of campaigning to prevent breast cancer for 20 years. Prevention has been at the core of the charity’s mission ever since it was founded in 2001 under the name of Breast UK by Heather Goodare, Clare Dimmer, Amy Johnson, and Helen Lynn.

Yet the charity’s mission has evolved in that time too, and one of the key figures in those changes has been former CEO Lynn Ladbrook, who led the charity from 2013 until 2019.

Lynn joined the charity as a campaigns consultant in 2012, before being appointed as the charity’s first chief executive in 2013. Reflecting on that time, she said: “When I joined, the charity had just had a significant win with the EU ban on BPA in babies’ bottles. The campaign was to take the ban wider so that BPA wouldn’t be present in any materials that were in contact with food.”

This was a pivotal moment for the charity – there was a wider recognition from the trustees and board that more could be done to broaden the charity’s expertise to look at prevention more widely. “We talked about the impact of a cocktail of chemicals, so we needed to show what the other chemicals were that were causing potential harm,”

A notable success was improving the information available on chemicals and prevention: “Whether it’s a flame retardant, or a plasticiser or a preservative, we developed content on the website so anyone can check the name of an ingredient and understand if it’s in your lipstick, or deodorant, or anything else.”

Lynn continued. “The next part of the story was saying ‘let’s not forget that it’s not just chemicals that can increase your risk of breast cancer – it is a lifestyle, it is exercise, it is diet’. So, we developed a strategy to grow, and increase our expertise and our impact across all areas.”

Lynn highlights Breast Cancer UK’s focus on prevention, as well as the passion of its staff, is what makes it unique. “Anyone that’s had breast cancer, knows someone who has – or has even just had a scare – knows how terrifying and life-changing breast cancer is. I feel very strongly that if you can, you should do things to try and prevent that.”

Reflecting on what was a time of growth for the charity, Lynn added: “It was exciting, it could be challenging at times but was always rewarding. All of the staff feel very passionately and strongly about the issues – and it’s vitally important for a charity like Breast Cancer UK to have that.

I had a whole host of fantastic mentors and inspirational people to work with, from Clare Dimmer and her husband Kevin, Caroline Seddon, and Mary Davies, who were fantastic chairs as well as a great Board of Trustees and staff team.”

Lynn’s passion for the importance of the role of chemicals and the environment started when she worked earlier in her career as a campaigner for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

She said: “WWF is where I developed a real interest in environmental issues, and where I started to work on the chemicals and health campaign. There is compelling evidence showing the impact that chemicals are having on the environment and animals – including declining fertility, genital abnormalities, and skeletal deformities.”

It is a theme that Lynn underlines when considering the further steps needed to help prevent cancers: “All sectors can do more – whether it’s government, industry, or the healthcare sector. It goes globally – the EU, and beyond. There’s only so much we can do individually about the air we breathe in – there’s only a limited choice when we go to the supermarket and pick something off the shelf.”

Looking to the future, she said: “My kids get taught more about the environment than I did when I was at school. But there’s more that can be done – it’s not just about recycling, it’s about reducing the use of plastics too.

Those products have chemicals in them, which if they are recycled get pushed back into the system. Society can play a bigger role by enabling equality of access to some of the things that can help – like buying organic, like more sustainable better packaging and products.”

“We should all do our bit for the environment, the planet, and future generations – but it’s so important to enjoy life and be positive,” she said. “Being curious and enquiring can empower you to make a difference. We can read the labels – think about the ingredients in the products and where they come from, and understand what we’re putting into our bodies and what we’re putting onto our bodies.”

Sadly, in the 20 years since Breast Cancer UK was founded, breast cancer incidence rates have risen by 25% in the UK[1]. And of course, Breast Cancer UK – in common with many other charities – has been impacted by the covid crisis, with income virtually halved over the past year.

Unfortunately, this has meant that the ambassador education project that Lynn started work on, back in 2016, and which was due for expansion, has not been able to continue. “This was a very positive, empowering project,” said Lynn.

“We managed to take all of our information, evidence, and practical knowledge and share it as widely as we could. Meeting the ambassadors, joining them at training days, and hearing their stories and experience and seeing their commitment to prevention was very inspiring.”

Despite this blow, Breast Cancer UK’s objectives to educate and raise awareness, campaign for policies that support the prevention of breast cancer, and support scientific research remain undimmed. Join our Prevention movement by marking our charity’s 20th anniversary – and follow Lynn’s advice of enjoying life! – there are still places for thrill-seekers to join our birthday fundraising skydive.

Lynn Ladbrook was Chief Executive of Breast Cancer UK from 2013 – 2019. She is currently CEO of the Primary Care Respiratory Society (PCRS).


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[1] Source – page 2 of 2019-22 strategic plan: https://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/app/uploads/2019/09/BCUK-3-year-Strategic-Plan-2019-2022.pdf

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