Published on September 29, 2015
Updated on April 17, 2023
Three powerful organizations came together on September 19 at the Dirksen Senate Office Building to raise awareness about how the environment may impact the development of women’s cancers (breast/uterine/cervical and ovarian). The Stately Senate Judiciary Committee Room was the setting as the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program joined with the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment and Executive Women in Government in hosting the conversation. A standing room only audience, including more than twenty-five spouses from the Congressional and Diplomatic communities, listened as leading scientists presented latest findings. With trademark humor and passion, Fran Drescher (also known as “The Nanny”) shared her personal experience with cancer which led her to activism.
Lisa McGovern began the conversation by introducing the panel’s moderators, Susan Allen, spouse of former Virginia Senator and Governor George Allen and Debbie Dingell, spouse of Representative John Dingell of Michigan. As First Lady of Virginia, Susan led a statewide Breast Cancer Initiative and has remained active in cancer issues. Debbie Dingell has been involved with breast and women’s cancer awareness and prevention for more than thirty years; both women are active members of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program.
Susan had the pleasure of introducing the audience to actress and author Fran Drescher who founded the group Cancer Schmancer after her diagnosis and successful treatment of uterine cancer. In addition to her work with that organization, Fran is a Public Diplomacy Envoy for Women’s Health Issues for the State Department. She uses her platforms to educate people about cancer prevention and the need for early detection, saying “I feel like I lived to talk about it.”
Fran treats every element in her life as a prevention tool, from the food she eats to the consumer products she chooses for her body and home. She lives her message and sees it as her mission to encourage others to be informed consumers and make educated decisions.
Fran’s remarks were followed by a discussion of environmental risk factors that may contribute to the development of women’s cancers by Dr. Linda Birnbaum and
Dr. H. Kim Lyerly who stressed that cancer is triggered by a mix of genes and environment. They all agreed that prevention is largely impacted by lifestyle choices; you can’t change your genes, but you can change your environment.
Dr. Birnbaum is the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. She recently completed a congressionally-mandated and funded research study on “Breast Cancer and the Environment: Prioritizing Prevention.” Dr. Lyerly is a medical doctor and breast cancer surgeon and serves as the George Bath Geller Professor of Cancer Research at the Duke University School of medicine. He addressed how these same environmental factors can negatively influence the effectiveness of treatment following diagnosis.