Breast Cancer Action Quebec is a feminist health organization that has been dedicated to breast cancer prevention for over 30 years, with a particular focus on the environmental factors linked to the disease. BCAQ works on the problem of toxic substances present in everyday products and is concerned with environmental issues that have an impact on health.
Our prevention, advocacy and public education activities focus on breast cancer issues, and over the years we have diversified our actions and approaches to address social inequalities in health, prevention education for youth and the fight against environmental racism.
Our mission is to advocate for breast cancer prevention and the elimination of environmental toxins linked to the disease. We work to empower people to make the societal changes needed to stop the disease before it starts.
Our vision is to move the focus of disease prevention from an individual burden to a societal responsibility. We are working for a society where many fewer people know the ravages of breast cancer and other diseases.
Our intersectional feminist approach implies that we acknowledge the way people’s social identities can overlap, creating compounding experiences of discrimination. At BCAQ we are committed to moving marginalized people’s voices to the centre. An anti-racist stance is strongly embedded in our vision meaning that we look critically at health and environment policy and practices to identify how systemic racism leads to individuals, groups or communities, because of their membership in specific ethnic groups or communities, being treated differently to their detriment.
From patient advocacy to environmental health: How do they connect?
A growing number of synthetic chemicals have been used in the production of almost everything we purchase. They have become a part of our indoor environment, found in cosmetics, cleaning compounds, baby and children’s toys, food storage containers, furniture and carpets, computers, phones, and appliances. Decades of research suggest that many of these chemicals disrupt hormonal systems and are linked to breast cancer and other serious illnesses.
What is primary prevention?
Elimination of risk factors that are linked to the development of breast cancer is described as primary prevention. Evidence shows the influence of lifestyle and environmental factors on the development of breast cancer (e.g. alcohol consumption, lack of physical exercise, exposure to toxic chemicals in our environments). Eliminating these risk factors - primary prevention - may contribute to a decrease in disease incidence. Simply put, primary prevention means stopping the disease before it starts. It is what we want, and it is where the focus of our work lies.
Secondary prevention, the use of diagnostic tests (e.g. mammography, magnetic resonance imaging, breast self-examination) to detect breast abnormalities often means breast cancer is suspected. Many people discover breast cancer through the Quebec depistage program where they are tested every two years, even if there is no suspicion. Detecting cancer, no matter how early, negates the possibility of preventing cancer. That is why we take issue with the often-repeated statement, “Early detection is your best prevention”.
What is the Precautionary Principle?
The Precautionary Principle is a safety-first premise that states that, when there are reasonable scientific grounds for believing a process or product may not be safe, even when cause-and-effect relationships are not fully understood, preventive action must be taken. We promote and support the adoption of the Precautionary Principle as a guideline for action against synthetic chemicals.
Aren’t we protected by Canadian environmental legislation?
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) aims to prevent pollution and protect the environment and human health. This legislation is outdated, and we are exposed to hundreds of toxic substances every day. We believe that all people in Canada deserve to live in a healthy and safe environment. There is an urgent need for the Parliament of Canada to act quickly on the reform of the legislation, and we are part of coalitions working towards this goal.
What is environmental racism?
Environmental racism refers to the disproportionate exposure to pollution experienced by Indigenous people, racialized communities and poor communities, and the subsequent negative health effects, as well as the unequal environmental protection provided through laws, regulations, governmental programs, enforcement, and policies. We believe that Canada should acknowledge its shameful legacy of environmental racism and ensure that all benefit from environmental protection policies.
What are social inequalities of health?
A wide range of social factors can affect our health, including gender, race/racism, income and social status, access to health services, and more. Social inequalities of health play out in breast cancer as with other serious illnesses. For example, there is evidence in the scientific literature that Black women and lower-income people are less likely to have their symptoms recognized and investigated early, resulting in a more advanced diagnosis, when treatment is less effective, and ultimately, results in a poorer prognosis. Social health inequalities are beyond an individual’s control. We believe that these unjust circumstances are avoidable; and we promote collective actions guided by principles of social justice.
The cost of a serious illness: What are we doing about it?
A combination of elements can affect the financial situation of any patient with a serious illness: a reduction in income, extra costs related to treatments, services and transportation, among others. There is no shame in a person facing financial difficulties, and there is no shame in getting help. BCAQ has worked with partners to provide tools and information to help navigate the financial difficulties while facing illness or an accident on a website called The Cost of a Serious Illness.
The price of medication: How is this an issue for breast cancer patients?
Illness-related costs can include costs associated with treatments not covered by RAMQ. The high price of patented medicines imposes significant economic hardship for people in Canada who do not have the necessary health insurance to pay for their prescriptions, generally those people who already have the most limited or precarious incomes. As an independent patient advocacy group, BCAQ is committed to lowering the price of medication.
Why doesn’t BCAQ support the pink ribbons movement?
When companies use a pink ribbon, which symbolizes support for breast cancer, to market goods which contain toxic substances linked to the disease, we refer to them as ‘pinkwashers’. Stacy Malkan author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, describes pinkwashing as ‘‘a term used to describe the activities of companies and groups that position themselves as leaders in the struggle to eradicate breast cancer while engaging in practices that may be contributing to rising rates of the disease.’’
During the last several decades, only 3-4% of the billions raised for research spending by pink ribbon products and activities such as runs for the cure, was allocated to breast cancer prevention and the environment. It’s time to spend more money studying the environmental links to breast cancer. Knowing that in the mid twentieth century one in twenty women would be treated for breast cancer and that the current statistic is one in eight women, we focus our efforts to on the environmental links to the disease.
Why doesn’t BCAQ accept contributions from pharmaceutical companies?
Breast Cancer Action Quebec (BCAQ) recognizes that the effectiveness of our work in public education, advocacy and coalition-building depends on the organization's credibility, particularly in the eyes of its members and the people it serves. The funding sources of any advocacy organization can appear to affect its political legitimacy, particularly in situations where corporate support raises the possibility, inference or perception of a conflict of interest. Accordingly, BCAQ will not accept financial support from corporate entities whose products or services are known to BCAQ to include cancer diagnosis or treatment.