The reason why I call this an unscientific approach is because it is impossible to conduct a double blind clinical trial proving prevention. It is not impossible to design such a study but it is unethical and morally unthinkable. You simply cannot ask a certain number of women to use substances thought to cause cancer and an equal number of women to not use them in the hope of ‘proving’ that cancer is preventable. In such a situation, the precautionary principle – widely applied in the climate change field – is applicable. If you are doing something the consequences of which you cannot fully foresee then don’t do it. Zen Buddism applied to planetary ecosystems, of which you are part. Similarly, if you are not sure whether something causes cancer, don’t do it. Continue not to do it for a number of years, and if you are still healthy suddenly the need for a double blind clinical trial seems less overwhelming. So here’s a breakdown of things which may increase the risk of breast cancer. You can laugh at me but why bet your life on my being wrong?
- Nine times out of ten we are killing ourselves through our mouths. Pesticides and herbicides contain many known carcinogens. These operate mainly through endocrine disruption, that is, they disrupt the hormonal balance of the body. Until recently, it was thought that very low doses of these toxins would be ‘safe’. However, recent advances in scientific understanding (the little of it that remains unfunded by Big Agribusiness) is inclining towards the theory that there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ level. This is because the endocrine system, like all living systems, is about balance. It does not matter if the imbalance is as light as a grain of sand or as heavy as an elephant, it will still tip the scale. Once the hormonal balance is disrupted all it takes is an unusual amount of stress to set the cells dividing at a cancerous rate. I am simplifying here but you get the point. Especially for women and genderqueer people, who are at high risk of gender-based violence, the added stress of Rape Trauma Syndrome and other Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (or even the constant worry of fearing them) places enough strain on our bodies without adding endocrine disruptors to the mix.
Play it safe. Eat food you have grown yourself or buy as much organic food as possible. In fact, do the planet a favour and stop emitting carbon at those expensive gyms. It is the most insane thing ever to be using electricity to do such an ordinary human thing as exercise. Garden organically instead, in your own or a guerilla garden you find somewhere. Carbon free and provides healthier food. Eat free-range meat, organic eggs and milk. Find a local grower (hopefully a women’s co-operative) or set up a community supported agriculture arrangement to source what you cannot produce, and while you are about it eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables high in betacarotenes and antioxidants: carrots, pumpkins, cabbage and her cousins, and so on. Yes, organic is more expensive than pesticide-laden food. But I can guarantee you it is cheaper than breast cancer treatment.
Plus you can use your consumer power to support small scale agriculture and women farmers. What is known as a win-win situation!
- Check your deodorant. Deodorants increase your risk of breast cancer because they are applied directly above the lymph nodes, the place where breast cancer is most likely to occur. Think of your body as a system. Say you are eating pesticide-laden food, breathing in pollution or drinking toxic water, all very ‘normal’ everyday urban experiences. Your system needs to try and get rid of these poisons. One of the ways we do this is by sweating. But if you are blocking your under arm sweat glands then you have just undermined this natural cycle. You are forcing the toxins back into your body where they start disrupting the balance which tells cells when to stop multiplying. So play it safe. When you are at home and hopefully working in the garden, stink away. If people don’t like it let them go bother somebody else.
This effect is doubled if your deodorant happens to contain cancer-causing chemicals. Yes, I said there are carcinogens in most deodorants and anti-perspirants sold on the market today. Aluminium is the one where the correlation is best proven, but parabens come a close second. Parabens are preservatives which are also known endocrine disruptors. You are adding grains of sand to the ones already contained in your diet. It is a further problem if synthetic fragrances are used in your deodorant because companies are allowed to patent these and in order to protect their patents it is legal to not declare the ingredients thereof. So we have absolutely no idea what they do. If the label of your deodorant says ‘aluminium’, any word ending in ‘paraben’, such as ‘methylparaben’, ‘butylparaben’, etc, or most ominously ‘fragrance’, toss it. Learn to read the labels. It can save your life.
Search for natural and organic deodorants. I am using Victorian Gardens’ one at the moment because I find that bicarbonate of soda ones give me a terrible rash. It can be ordered online. Or have a look at a health food store near you! There are many traditional herbs and clays which can be used as well, so think of getting to know your indigenous knowledge systems as something which might save your life. Another win-win situation.
- Be a critically thinking consumer about those mammograms. Obviously if you are a high risk category, eg. with a high rate of breast cancer in the family, you might want to consider regular checks. But recent medical advice is that regular mammograms may in fact increase your risk of breast cancer. Because it increases your exposure to radioactivity. Again, scientists are also re-thinking the notion of a ‘safe dose’ of radiation and for the same reasons, namely the notion of balance. Some of the chemicals involved are not that great either. Really. Then there is the problem of ‘precautionary’ biopsies where you only find out if it is cancerous after the surgery, something, hm hm, extremely common amongst women with lots of medical aid. Let me run this by you again: your body is a living system, not a machine. Running your breast through a radioactive machine and then doing invasive trauma filled surgery is going to disrupt the system. Your breasts do not like it. This is in itself may increase your risk of cancer. The debate has raged for years, and I am not going to go into which cancer societies are funded by Big Pharma and which not. Suffice it to say that the move towards consensus is to have fewer mammograms for shorter periods of your life.
My advice is to apply the precautionary principle: maximize those factors which prevent breast cancer and minimize those which may cause it. Do prayer, yoga and meditation which are great absolutely toxin free stress reducers and bring your body back into balance with your mind. Hug lots for the same reason. Have fun. Though self-examinations are discouraged nowadays for goodness knows what reason, for feminist purposes they are enjoyable, especially if conducted by your lover. Maximize those and give radioactivity a re-think.
- Burn the bra! This is not my feminist idea of a joke. It has been shown that constricting the breast tissue for many hours daily may increase the risk of breast cancer. This is for mechanical reasons that operate similarly to the deodorant issue: when you compress your breast tissue you limit blood flow and strangle the lymphatic system which is one of the principal means through which your body rids itself of toxins. Apparently there are some insane people who actually sleep in bras and these obviously increase their risk since it means your body cannot be free to function even at night. So this is currently one of the hot frontiers in the breast cancer prevention debate. My take as a large-breasted woman who in fact never wore a bra at all until gravity finally got the upper hand at 42? Well, the precautionary principle says that you can without cost to your professional life easily toss the bra at the same time as you toss the deodorant: when you are at home or chilling with friends. Then see in ten years’ time when the scientific debate has concluded if you are still alive. Or not.
- Reconsider oral contraceptives! Along With Naomi Wolf I have for years been saying that the ‘sexual revolution’ seemed to have benefited men more than it served women. Since becoming an aunt I have been saying so even more forcefully. There is no such thing as a free lunch. For every freedom there is also a responsibility. Especially from the point of view of African culture, I cannot say that giving up ancient ideas of mutual obligation and care in favour of sleeping around with whoever has not involved a lot of sacrifice, not least a marked lack of emotional safety. Now it seems as if it may be deadly. In fact, the link between contraceptive pills and breast cancer is one of the most scientifically uncontested ones. Even highly conservative organizations now acknowledge the link. See, the problem is that humans did the same thing with the Pill as we are now doing with AZT’s. Highly scientific clinical trials were done on a few thousand people. Did we have any idea what would be the consequences of spreading this medication to millions of people over decades of time? Nope. Like runaway global warming, this is an example of where we failed to apply the precautionary principle. Pharmaceutical companies made millions, many men got lots of sex without concomitant responsibilities of marriage and child-care, and no doubt women too had a good time, but at a cost. See, I am going to repeat this one last time. The body is a living system. Abstracting it from life and sticking it in a laboratory where we investigate what one single substance does to one specific group of people over one specific period of time is only going to tell us so much. Now the results of decades of sticking oestrogen and progesterone into an incredibly delicately balanced endocrine system about which we actually know very little lived by millions of women in an even more complex planetary ecosystem is an increase in rates of breast cancer. Ooops. There it is.
Yes, this has been known by doctors for a long time,that is why dosages have been steadily falling since the neutron bomb contraceptive pills of the 1960’s. And of course it remains better to increase your risk of breast cancer than to have children you cannot feed. We will be doing the planet a HUGE favour by having fewer children and in fact are going to need to do so over the next generation or two or we won’t have a planetary ecosystem to keep our kids in. But that said, there are many healthy non-toxic ways to avoid getting pregnant. The most obvious is to end gender-based violence, and I won’t go into that since Professor Gqola has told us exactly how to go about it. But obviously, if 1 in 3 women in South Africa are going to be raped at least once in their lifetimes then it is likely that one-third of all children born are as a result of gender-based violence. Probably more, since rape is the situation where you are least likely to be able to choose contraception. But that is a really bad reason to use the Pill.
Turning to the pleasure side of sex there are plenty of non-toxic, more pleasurable and much cheaper methods of contraception. Probably the easiest of these is to become a lesbian. May be emotionally hazardous depending on who you end up with but solves your contraceptive problem for life.  If you really, absolutely, not in a million years could stomach the thought and insist on being heterosexual, then use a condom. If you are allergic to latex or can’t stand the thought of emitting all that carbon, then practice non-penetrative sex in combination with the rhythm method. Do as the Khoesan did (in fact all matriarchal peoples) and get in harmony with the moon. Yes, it is more trouble and less reliable than the Pill. But it won’t increase your risk of breast cancer or render you a scientific experiment at your own expense. It will also serve to begin to undermine monopoly capitalism in the pharmaceutical sector. They lose their profits from the Pill and will also be less able to sell you expensive breast cancer treatment. I call that a good deal.
 . . The 2013 Berlaymont Declaration on Endocrine Disrupters Available at http://www.brunel.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/300200/The_Berlaymont_Declaration_on_Endocrine_Disrupters.pdf . Last accessed 30 May, 2014.
 . Wolf, Naomi (1994). Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How To Use It. New York: Fawcett Columbine.
 . I will give you just one example: search the web for a single source of information that can tell you how to keep intersex people healthy in their natural state and you will find none. Zero. Zip. Nada. The only medical science that exists out there is about how to make them single-gendered. But as to what constitutes their optimal hormonal balance or what happens when they are exposed to multiple endocrine disruptors in a binary gender system which in itself stresses them to hell and gone and you will find a big empty gaping silence. Now if modern science has no idea of the complexities which go into keeping a person healthy who has lots of everything in intricate beautiful balance, how are we to understand the complex hormonal interactions even of single gendered humans? Short answer: we don’t. Your lives are being played with people, while Big Pharma makes lots of money. How does that make you feel?
 . Peeps, I dealt with GBV already. OK?