Susan G. Komen: Can You Trust a Breast Cancer Organization Whose Staff and Board Members Lie About Breast Cancer?

See all our coverage of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s break with Planned Parenthood here.

Can you trust a breast cancer organization whose staff and board lie about medical science, including breast cancer?

Today, amidst the outcry surrounding the decision by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to demand that its state affiliates terminate a successful five-year relationship working with Planned Parenthood clinics to increase access to breast cancer screening for low-income and uninsured women, it dawned on me that there is another pressing question here not being asked.

Why has the world’s largest breast cancer advocacy organization hired senior staff people and elected to its board individuals who misrepresent, or are allied with those who misrepresent, medical and public health evidence, including about causes of breast cancer?

It seems to me that the most fundamental measure of accountability for an organization dealing with life-threatening illnesses and public heath problems such as breast cancer is the efficacy with which that organization evaluates, communicates about, and respects medical and scientific evidence. Further from that, it would seem imperative that such an organization hire staff and elect board members who uphold the highest standards of science and medicine without regard to personal ideology.

Yet Komen has done just the opposite. They hired a known anti-choice politician, failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, as their Senior Vice President for Policy, a woman who misrepresented facts about government funding of Planned Parenthood as part of her core campaign strategy, and who also supports the spread of misinformation about public health and individual consequences of abortion care, outright lies that have been soundly refuted by medical and public health experts. The foundation of Handel’s career and poiltical candidacy is an ideology based on misrepresenting scientific, medical, and other facts.  Isn’t that damaging to an organization that claims to be the world’s largest donor to scientific research on breast cancer? Why would an organization concernd about accuracy in research hire such a person?

They also elected Jane Abraham, the General Chairman of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) to their board. SBA itself is founded on misrepresentation of the history of Susan B. Anthony, and has constantly spread false and misleading information about federal government funding of abortion, about health reform, and about the the public health and medical evidence surrounding safe abortion care.

Moreover, Abraham is also closely affiliated with The Nurturing Network, a global network of crisis pregnancy centers started by Mary Cunningham Agee, a former corporate business executive and anti-choice crusader affiliated with the Coalition for Life.  The Nurturing Network and other crisis pregnancy organizations exist to mislead women and dissuade them from making decisions that are best for themselves, and are based on sound scientific and medical advice. They are also profoundly patronizing in their approach, which is based on knowing better than women themselves what those women “should want” and what is “best for them.”

Groups like Nuturing Network are the nucleus of lies about abortion and breast cancer.  For example, a December 2004 Congressional report based on an investigation led by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) found that, among other things, such centers:

“…provided false and misleading information about a link between abortion and breast cancer. There is a medical consensus that induced abortion does not cause an increased risk of breast cancer. Despite this consensus, eight centers told the caller that having an abortion would in fact increase her risk. One center said that “all abortion causes an increased risk of breast cancer in later years.”  Another claimed that research shows a “far greater risk” of breast cancer after an abortion, telling the caller that an abortion would “affect the milk developing in her breasts” and that the risk of breast cancer increased by as much as 80% following an abortion.”

Never mind that the “abortion-breast cancer link” has been disproven many times over by groups like, uh, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the Institutes of Medicine. The lies live on because groups like SBA keep them going. For example, Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List, is closely affiliated with and has appeared at events hosted by a group called the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer.  Meanwhile, you don’t see too many folks working with the Komen Foundation who are out there pounding the pavement on, say, the possible links between environmental toxins and breast cancer, causal links between  which make the corporate partners of Komen very, very nervous.

So it is fair to ask: Just what are the scientific and medical standards to which the Susan G. Komen Foundation adheres, if any? Why would a breast cancer organization hire staff and elect board members that misrepresent science and facts?  Can you trust them to give you sound information about breast cancer?  And can you trust them with investing your money in the best possible efforts to end breast cancer?

Just sayin’.

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  • view2

    Jodi, thank you for your submissions over the last couple of days. I was pleased with the national news coverage of this topic last evening. And today, you are spot on to point out the question regarding credibility and trust as the even more important question we should be asking ourselves! It doesn’t take much of an “investigation” (pun intended) to determine their bias. To hire a senior policy staff person and choose as a  board member people who refuse to believe agencies such as the CDC or the Institutes of Medicine because they have disproven the link between abortion and breast cancer while shying away from the research that even suggests there may be a link between environmental toxins and breast cancer shows to all that they care very little about science or women’s health. Shame on them! 

  • halli620

    The lack of coverage by Komen of research on environmental causes of breast cancer has always bothered me. While awareness, and treatment/”cures,” are of course very important, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and they don’t seem to do any work in researching environmental toxins or in working toward reducing these. I have looked through their online gift shop a number of times, which has numerous items made of non-organic cotton (one of the most heavily pesticide-sprayed crops in the world) and plastics produced with byproducts of toxic wastes. I think that Komen is also the group that had a fundraiser with KFC chicken, even though fried food has been shown to be linked to cancer. It seems to me that they’re fundraising for awareness, but not for the greater good, as in actually making a real effort to end NEW cases of breast cancer, like their mission sounds like they should be. This withdrawal of funds is just the final nail in the coffin for me of my opinion of the Komen foundation.

  • jfgbdet

    Thank you Jodi for helping to keep us informed. This type of change at Komen seems to be a part of a larger political agenda that has been carefully planned and executed. Just as it has in the public education sector, the right-wing fundamentalist minority has stealthily insinuated itself into positions, where it can force its agenda on everyone else in our varied and multicultural population. In addition, America now has several other home-grown Talibans to contend-with (the militia movement, the oath-keepers para-military movement, the growing neo-nazi movement, etc). In a democracy like ours, all people, all races, all religions, all belief systems should be respected. Those on the right should be able to choose to live, how they see fit, those in the middle, or on the left should be able to live according to their values as well. Any free society cannot afford to have its “freedoms” dictated or forced by one group, unless it is content to let its democracy slip into fascism. Is America really ready and willing to forget the lessons of history?

  • earndorfer

    Thank you Halli620 — you said exactly what I was thinking.  PPFA probably does more to PREVENT breast cancer through their support of the Safer Chemcials Act (note Komen is not on the list of supporters) and other environmental health work (check out PP Minnesota’s video on reproductive health and toxics and other affiliate’s support of eliminating/removing toxic chemicals — PP of Ct, PP of Maine, PP Greater Northwest, PP Mar Monte — to name just a few. . .).

  • earndorfer

    Thank you Halli620 — you said exactly what I was thinking.  PPFA probably does more to PREVENT breast cancer through their support of the Safer Chemcials Act (note Komen is not on the list of supporters) and other environmental health work (check out PP Minnesota’s video on reproductive health and toxics and other affiliate’s support of eliminating/removing toxic chemicals — PP of Ct, PP of Maine, PP Greater Northwest, PP Mar Monte — to name just a few. . .).

  • deb-r

    There are two organizations that are focused on the real causes of cancer if one is looking for a group to support instead of ones that are anti-science: and   I don’t know if one is better than the other.

  • freetobe

    My first reason was because they do animal testing. There are now other cruelty free methods that can be used including volunteer living humans.

    My second reason was because of a dear friend of mine whom I only knew for 6 years. She had terminal breast cancer. The kind that did not respond well to normal treatments. The cancer eventually spread to her entire body and killed her.

    It was close to her death that her husband came to me and told me what a doctor at Johns Hopkins University Hospital (top cancer hospital in the world) said . He said that that he wondered where all those funds from all the various charities were going because not much if anything had changed or broken through on the treatment of breast cancer in 30 years!

    Red flags all over the place and I agree with the other commentor that mentioned enviornmental factors. What exactly is the government hiding from us when major outbreaks of cancers are happening in the corn belt (Midwest)? What is the military hiding? Too much silence. Prevention is so much better than cures. They do not seem to think this way because there is too much money in big pharma and agriculture. Monsant o the monster genetic modifyer of what will soon be all of our produce is one to particularly watch.

    Now to the really agrivating part. I am glad that I was not donating recently after hearing that the congressional inquiry rule that Komen just adopted was made up as an excuse to end their association with Planned Parenthood. This is another right wing plot to destroy Planned parenthood just as they managed to do with Acorn which was found NOT GUILY of anything illegal!

    This new group of anti-choicers are really getting dangerous and I hope that this Komen incident begins to wake up the public before it is too late for all of us.

  • katheenql

    Hello. I’m hoping someone can answer a question for me. I was under the impression that only the one FL congressman was demanding to see the financial info from PP re fed funding and abortion. Is that actually a Congressional Investigation? Don’t think me trite but isn’t the perusal of menu by a congressman then by default a congressional investigation? Is that all it takes? Or does it need to be a group or committee? Thanks. And awesome work.

  • sschoice

    Here’s three articles worth knowing about, and reading if you have time:



    Insight: Komen charity under microscope for funding, science

    Wed Feb 8, 2012 12:22pm EST

    Reuters | By Sharon Begley and Janet Roberts


    After Susan G. Komen Debacle, Senators Launch Women’s Rights Campaign | Huffington Post

    After Outcry, a Senior Official Resigns at Komen

    New York Times | By JENNIFER PRESTON | Published: February 7, 2012

  • jodi-jacobson

    Any congressperson can abuse their power when they are in power.  “Congressional investigation” is a misleading term for this because it is not as though some group of people “indicted” PPFA for something and is requiring them to defend themselves.  So, no, it is not an “investigation” of that sort, which is one reason that Komen’s decision was so specious and obviously politically-instigated.  We are talking about a group of people in the GOP/Tea Parties who are rabidly anti-woman, anti-reproductive health care, and who spend their time, as is obvious, focusing on witch hunts around Planned Parenthood.

    So the answer to your question is: This is not an “investigation” of the kind we think of when there is some legitimate reason to look into a program or an organization.  It is a politically-motivated witch hunt driven by someone abusing not only his power, but the use of taxpayer dollars.



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