Tackling an
environmental disease

 HEA, UNISON, Co-operative bank and Scottish breast cancer campaign logos
Primary prevention is the answer

Clean out your bathroom cupboard


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Women have decided that buying a pink ribbon in October for breast cancer awareness month just isn’t enough. The campaigning charity ‘Women’s Environmental Network’ (WEN) and UNISON, the UK’s largest union with over a million women members, are launching a campaign this month to remove just some of the possible cancer causing chemicals from their homes.

With nearly 250 women dying of breast cancer every week in the UK, the campaign seeks to turn attention towards the prevention of breast cancer rather than accepting a future in which getting this disease is increasingly inevitable for growing numbers of women. Whilst there is a mountain of research (note 4) which points the finger at chemicals in everyday products such as cosmetics and toiletries as being implicated in the increasing incidence of breast cancer (note 1), most of the cancer charities ignore this.

The WEN and UNISON campaign starts in the bathroom cupboard. By looking at the ingredients list of the toiletries in there, women can use the campaign information to identify those that contain substances linked to cancer (note 2). They are then encouraged to take the product back to where they bought it and explain to the shop why they no longer want it. In this way, women are not only taking a small step to make their own lives safer, but they are telling retailers that they care about what they are being sold and want safer products, free from carcinogens.

WEN’s Campaign Co-ordinator, Helen Lynn, said:
Why is so little attention given to the links between toxic chemicals and breast cancer? We are exposed to low-level daily doses in a myriad of different consumer products or in work yet no one knows what the cumulative and combined effect of this exposure is. New chemicals legislation from the EU (REACH) will go some way to reducing our exposure to potential carcinogens and endocrine disruptors but the cancer establishment needs to shows it commitment to primary prevention of the disease by acknowledging the environmental links.

Sharon Greene, UNISON’s National Women’s Officer added:
Women are now very aware of breast cancer. We all know someone with the disease or have lost a good friend or relative to it. Whilst we acknowledge that some treatments have improved, we feel frustrated that so little attention is given to stopping breast cancer before it starts. Our campaign tries to give women back some control over their lives and send a strong message that we don’t want products that cause us harm.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, and one in nine women will develop it in their lifetime. This ratio has increased from one in twelve in just five years. 41,700 women each year hear they have breast cancer. (note 3).

WEN and UNISON do not want people to stop giving to cancer charities, nor to take away from the detection, treatment and care of breast cancer. However, both bodies believe that cancer charities should expand their focus from genetic research and development of drugs to block the disease and do more to investigate and reduce exposure to environmental contributory factors.

The campaign aims to shake up people’s views about breast cancer during the ‘awareness month’ because it perpetuates the view that the disease is inevitable. WEN and UNISON do not believe this; they believe that there is now incontrovertible evidence that man-made chemicals routinely released into the environment are a major cause of breast cancer.

For further information please contact:
WEN – Helen Lynn, Campaign Co-ordinator, 0207 481 9004
UNISON – Sharon Greene, National Women’s Officer, 0207 551 1355

Notes to editors:

1. The ‘Clear out your bathroom cupboard’ campaign is informed by information which is collated in the document ‘Breast cancer: an environmental disease – the case for primary prevention’ produced by a coalition including WEN and part funded by UNISON.

2. Take a Toxic Tour of your bathroom cabinet -

3. Cancer Registration in England and

4. Recent research supports the environmental link: Occupation and Breast Cancer. A Canadian Case Control Study: Annuals of New York Academy of Science 1076: 765–777 (2006). James Brophy et al. Electronic copies of the study are available online at

5. WEN is a national membership charity that campaigns on environment and health issues from a woman’s perspective. For more on its work on breast cancer and the environment, see

6. UNISON is the UK’s largest public sector union representing workers in the NHS, local councils, voluntary groups, energy and water companies, police support staff and those working in Higher Education. It has 1.3 million members of whom over 1 million are women. 

7. Women for a strong reach

contact us | about us | a campaign of Breast Cancer UK reg. charity number: 1138866 in England & Wales; reg. company number: 7348408|
Reg. address: Breast Cancer UK Ltd, Solva, Southwick Road, Denmead, Waterlooville, Hants. PO7 6LA UK | last updated: 25/10/2006