By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
In February, the Central New York Chapter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation awarded more than $100,000 in grants from the proceeds of the 1997 Race for the Cure. These grants will support cancer screening, counseling and survivor support. To my surprise, none of the money targets breast cancer prevention.
My family has developed an unwelcome acquaintance with breast cancer. My wife developed breast cancer at age 27. My father developed breast cancer at age 72. Their memories live on in our ongoing fight against the disease.
Many experts in the medical profession and the Komen Foundation continue to mislead the public about the causes of breast cancer. By blaming the disease on heredity and genetics, and by referring to screening and early detection as prevention, they condone the unhealthy lifestyle that causes the disease.
Granted, early detection of breast cancer saves lives, and genetics may increase a woman's risk. However, studies have shown that the majority of breast cancer cases occur in women and men with no prior family history of the disease, and that our indulging lifestyle remains the leading risk factor.
In its literature, Komen lists gender, age and reproductive behavior as the leading risk factors in the USA. Yet they overlook the simple fact that women live, reproduce and age all over the world, without the fear of developing breast cancer.
The death rate from breast cancer in the USA, Canada and England is six times higher than that in Japan, Taiwan or the Philippines. The death rate from breast cancer among black women in Alameda, CA, is 60 times higher than that for black women in Kenya.
Migration studies confirm that lifestyle, including diet and exercise, is a more significant risk factor than heredity. Second generation immigrants from Japan and China who assimilated into the American way of life develop breast cancer at the same rate as North Americans, while their relatives who stayed in Asia continue to enjoy a much lower occurrence.
On the diet front, the results of the migration studies correlate breast cancer incidence with fat intake. Americans and western Europeans eat on average 150 grams of fat daily, compared to 40 grams for East Asians and Africans. A lower fat intake translates into a lower risk of breast cancer.
On the exercise front, body fat may hold the answer. In a sense, fitness leads to health. Japan has the largest proportion of marathon runners of any country in the world. Kenya, Ethiopia, China, Korea and Mexico dominate the world of long distance running. In the USA, a Harvard study showed that women who competed in athletics had one third the rate of breast cancer than their peers.
Far from being coincidental, the correlation between diet and exercise on one hand, and breast cancer on the other, is blatantly obvious. Directing prevention efforts toward lifestyle education, through changes in eating habits and physical activity, will have a direct and dramatic impact on reducing breast cancer.
Therefore, I invite the Susan G. Komen Foundation to join in the fight against breast cancer. Instead of spending all its resources on detection, disease and death, I challenge the foundation to allocate half of next year's grants to prevention, fitness and health.
I challenge Komen to sponsor cross country programs in elementary schools, to provide running shoes for children at risk, to build tracks at middle schools, to organize weekly fitness runs, to promote healthy school meals, to educate teachers and parents on proper nutrition, and to engage our leaders in a matching commitment.
It is sad that the Komen Foundation has confused the essence of the Race for the Cure, and used running to collect money for a disease, instead of using running to prevent disease. In every fun run, in every road race, in every track meet, every time a runner's sweat drips onto a pavement, she is doing her share to fight breast cancer.
Kamal Jabbour's RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To The Editor:
After reading the commentary by Kamal Jabbour in the March 9 edition of your paper, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation would like to clarify the role we play in the fight against breast cancer.
Proceeds from the "Race For The Cure" series (run in 86 cities across the country in 1998) fund both national research efforts and local breast cancer initiatives. A majority of the proceeds fund local community programs related to breast health education, screening and treatment, and are based on the specific needs determined by a community profile. A minimum of 25 percent of the proceeds fund national breast cancer research and project grants, including research on diet and exercise.
The Komen Foundation's National Grant Fund supports basic, clinical and translational research, delving into the causes, progression and treatment of breast cancer. Several studies related to diet and breast cancer have been funded; however, we need more scientific evidence to determine the direct link between the two. Exercise is also a factor, but as Mr. Jabbour pointed out, the majority of women who are diagnozed with breast cancer have no known risk factors. This includes women who are marathon runners and eat a healthy diet. In fact, we inform the public that only 5 to 10 percent of women with breast cancer have a hereditary form of the disease.
Obviously, there are other factors which play a role in the development of this disease, and we support innovative research projects to determine these causes. As proponents of healthy lifestyles, we also encourage women to follow a regular exercise program and eat a diet low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, we do not believe that this alone will solve the problem of women suffering and dying from breast cancer.
The Komen Foundation's approach to breast cancer is "today and tomorrow". We support programs today for the women who are at risk or living with breast cancer, women who have survived the disease and are dealing with long term side effects of treatment, and their families. For our future, our National Grant Program funds research to find a cure, or cures, in hopes that our daughters will never have to worry about breast cancer.
We applaud Mr. Jabbour's obvious passion and desire to raise the public's awareness of breast cancer. While diet and exercise are important components, these are just two elements that potentially contribute to the development of breast cancer.
For more information on the Komen Foundation, we invite the public to visit our website at www.breastcancerinfo.com.
Susan G. Braun, President and Chief Executive Officer