Dispatch: Breast Cancer Research May Get Political

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The names of the 19 members of the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee were announced by the National Institutes of Health on Monday. The panel will meet in September to investigate the “environmental and genetic causes” of breast cancer and will determine the most effective allocation of breast cancer research funds. According to Linda Birnbaum, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the committee will “advance our understanding of the critical links between our environment, our genes and our health.”

Upon learning that the committee will include advocates as well as federal agencies and doctors, ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan worried that the panel will focus on chemicals. “When people hear a committee discussing the ‘environmental causes’ of breast cancer, they automatically assume it refers to chemical causations,” she says. “But in reality, the word ‘environmental’ simply means anything non-genetic.”

“I’ll give the committee the benefit of the doubt and hope that their evaluation of the environmental factors will be based on valid scientific evidence,” adds ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Unfortunately, when advocacy groups get involved, it usually means there’s some ulterior political motive at play.”