Testimony of Gail Frankel
Field Coordinator and Advocate
on behalf of the
National Breast Cancer Coalition
before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Garden City, New York
Background and Introduction
Good morning. My name is Gail Frankel and I am from Centereach, New York. I am an eight-year breast cancer survivor. I am also a volunteer with the Adelphi Breast Cancer Hotline and Support Program.
I am here today as a proud member of the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC).
Thank you Chairman Reid (D-NV), for holding this hearing, and along with Senator Chafee (R-RI), Representative Lowey (D-NY), and Representative Myrick (R-NC), for co-sponsoring the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act. Thank you also to my Senator, Senator Clinton (D-NY), for your support of this legislation and your commitment to this issue. And thank you to all the Committee members for inviting me here to testify today.
As you know, the National Breast Cancer Coalition is a grassroots organization dedicated to ending breast cancer through the power of action and advocacy. The Coalition’s main goals are to increase federal funding for breast cancer research and collaborate with the scientific community to design and implement new models of research; improve access to high quality health care and breast cancer clinical trials for all women, and; expand the influence of breast cancer advocates in all aspects of the breast cancer decision making process.
NBCC truly appreciates the fact that you are focusing on the issue of preventing this disease. We all wonder what causes breast cancer. I too have questions about what caused my breast cancer. Diagnosed at 53, I was told that even though my mother died at age 48 from the disease, my breast cancer was unlikely to be due to an inherited genetic defect since inherited cancer usually shows up at an earlier age in offspring. No other high risk factors applied to me. Did my diagnosis have something to do with where I live? The sad truth is nobody knows; there is no conclusive evidence about what causes this disease.
The Environment and Breast Cancer
As a volunteer for the Adelphi Breast Cancer Hotline and Support Program, and as a breast cancer survivor myself, I understand all too well the concerns women in New York have regarding the possible link between the environment and breast cancer.
While it is generally believed that the environment plays some role in the development of this disease, the extent of that role is not yet understood. NBCC believes that now is the time to focus our attention and public resources on developing an overall strategy to look at all aspects of this question. We can no longer afford to spend time, dollars and lives on isolated issues.
It is with that goal in mind that NBCC convened its first Environmental Summit in September 1998. This Summit brought together more than 50 experts, including scientists, advocates, government officials, and policymakers to begin developing a comprehensive strategy for studying the potential links between breast cancer and the environment.
Participants at this Summit brought many diverse perspectives. Some felt strongly that the environment is to blame for breast cancer. Others thought the cause is purely genetic. A third group believed that breast cancer is caused by some combination of the environment and genetics. While the participants differed in their perspectives, they ultimately agreed that the lack of evidence about the environment and breast cancer highlights the need for further studies on this issue. Furthermore, the decision of which questions to research should not be made in a vacuum, rather it should be made as part of an overall strategy of looking at all questions, prioritizing them, determining where we have some answers, and moving forward from that point. That is exactly what the bipartisan Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act is meant to achieve: a collaborative, coordinated, nationwide effort to address this issue.
Peer-Reviewed Environmental Breast Cancer Research – A Model for Other Diseases
This legislation would take a responsible approach to the questions around this issue by authorizing $30 million per year for five years to allow the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to make grants for the development and operation of collaborative research centers to study environmental factors that may be related to the development of breast cancer.
Under a peer-reviewed grant-making process, modeled after the incredibly successful Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, the NIEHS Director could award grants to public or non-profit entities for the development and operation of up to eight centers for the purpose of conducting multi-disciplinary research on the links between breast cancer and the environment.
This legislation would require each center to be a collaborative effort of various institutions, companies and community organizations in the geographic areas where the research is being conducted, and would include consumer advocates. The enactment of such legislation would bring together a diverse group of entities, which would be able to take a broad look at the issue and develop a strategy based on differing perspectives.
And, like the support for the DOD BCRP, this legislation already has broad bipartisan support from across the political spectrum.
We recognize that this is a unique approach to looking at the environment and breast cancer. But time and time again, scientists, advocates and policy makers have told us that what is needed is a coordinated, responsible, innovative strategy. That is exactly what this bill would be. We appreciate that you, Members of the Committee, have the courage and vision to support this innovative approach.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today, and I would be happy to answer any questions.