BLOG: Jack Brown - My first two weeks
Published 9 May 2016
Hello I’m Jack, Breast Cancer UK’s new Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer. I have been working at Breast Cancer UK for a couple of weeks now and it has been an eye opening experience.
I have had a long-standing interest in health and the environment, but meeting and working with so many knowledgeable and passionate people has already expanded my understanding of the issues and the size of the challenge that we face.
Last week I went to a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer (APPG BC) in Parliament. The APPG BC is made up of MPs and members of the House of Lords who have a particular interest in breast cancer. We were there, along with our fellow breast cancer charities, to discuss breast cancer prevention.
Breast cancer rates in the UK are rising year on year – breast cancer incidence has increased 72% since the 1970s, and the lifetime risk for women in the UK of developing breast cancer is now 1 in 8, up from 1 in 9 a decade ago. Studies show that this rise is not simply due to our genes or the fact that we are living longer.
It was fascinating to hear so many different views about how we should tackle rising breast cancer rates and how to give the issue a higher profile in Parliament. It is clear that there is a strong appetite for promoting earlier detection and better treatments for breast cancer as are both vitally important in saving women’s lives and helping them to live longer. There is also widespread acceptance that promoting lifestyle changes can reduce the number of breast cancer cases: less alcohol, regular exercise, and a healthy level of body fat.
But what shocked me was the marginalisation of environmental health. There are a significant number of breast cancer cases that are not linked to our genes or to our lifestyle and there is an increasingly large amount of evidence to suggest that they are linked to hormone disrupting chemicals in our environment, which can affect our bodies even at very low doses. And yet there seems to be a reluctance among policy makers in the UK to acknowledge this - if Breast Cancer UK had not been at the meeting, then the link between our environment and breast cancer would not have been made at all.
It has been a busy couple of weeks and I have also attended a meeting with the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety on the regulation of hormone disrupting chemicals. What struck me was that the link between the environment and health seems to be more readily acknowledged at an EU level, and the level of debate is more advanced – the question being asked is ‘how do we tackle this?’ rather than ‘should we tackle this?’. The UK needs to catch up with the EU and with the evidence.
I have been encouraged by widespread support for a greater focus on breast cancer prevention, but it is clear that we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that evidence of the link between the environment and breast cancer is properly communicated, and that action is taken to tackle all breast cancer risk factors.
I am looking forward to continuing this debate with policy makers, but it has also become clear to me that we need your continued help to make our message heard loud and clear. If you would like to add your voice to the chorus of people demanding action on breast cancer prevention, you can write to your MP or help support our campaigns by volunteering or donating.