We have recently attended the STUC Women’s Conference in Perth, which we have been doing for many years now. It is always great to talk with women who are well-informed, politically active and genuinely concerned about the many challenges facing our society today.
Breast Cancer Prevention Scotland is just one of the many organisations who take information stands in the lobby hall of the conference venue and we stand proudly beside Hazards Scotland, Abortion Rights Scotland and the Scottish Pensioners’ Forum, to name but a few.
Over the years, I have spoken with many women – mainly about services, screening and treatment options. This year, however, we have refocused our campaigning issues on the environmental and occupational risks of breast cancer and the disproportionate emphasis on diet and lifestyle. Our new ‘pop-up banner’ with a pie chart showing the small proportion of risk attributable to diet and lifestyle has not surprised the delegates I spoke with and all agreed that we need to put more emphasis on the “other” factors which affect risk. It is heartening to know that we are ‘leaning against an open door’, as far as STUC delegates are concerned.
That is not to say that diet and lifestyle are not important factors, a few of which are certainly within the control of some women. But can we really influence when we have our first period? When we have our first baby? Whether we succeed in breast feeding – or indeed if our occupation permits it? When we have the menopause? How tall we are?!? But by continually being told that we can control the incidence of breast cancer by diet and lifestyle the powers that be neglect to highlight the very serious risks of environmental pollution and occupational carcinogens.
Something else which was drawn to my attention, was that some women believe that the incidence of breast cancer in on the decrease. Nothing can be further from the truth! The continuous “positive” message broadcast by many charities and governments is that survival from breast cancer has greatly improved – which thankfully is true. But the “positive” message fails to highlight the fact that many more women are becoming cancer patients – from 1 in 12 25 years ago to 1 in 9 now. Yes, women are surviving but only after radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone treatments all of which can have lifelong health issues.
With the offered support of one of the Unions attending the conference, we would like to have this matter raised and debated at a future STUC Women’s conference. We sincerely hope this comes to fruition.