Marin Breast Cancer Watch

Welcome to MBCW!

Our Mission

Marin Breast Cancer Watch’s mission is to find the causes of breast cancer through community participation in the research process.

About Marin Breast Cancer Watch


MBCW was founded in 1995 by a group of concerned Marin County residents who wanted to know why so many of their friends were afflicted with breast cancer.

Marin Breast Cancer Watch Executive Summary

Marin Breast Cancer Watch is a non-profit organization founded in 1995 with a mission to find the causes of breast cancer.

In less than a decade, MBCW has grown from a small group of women concerned about the health of their friends and neighbors to a leader in conducting community-based research, educating and providing information to the community, and advocating on behalf of policies that will help find the causes of breast cancer and focus on creating a healthy environment.

As an organization, MBCW believes that prevention is the cure to breast cancer and that finding what causes the disease will help women make better and more informed decisions about their lives and their health care.

As part of its work, MBCW advocates for the Precautionary Principle, which says if there is a belief that products or practices are harmful to human health and the environment, action should be taken before the public is exposed rather than waiting for harm or risk to be proven.

Since its creation, MBCW has broken down barriers in an effort to accomplish its goals. When no one believed a group from the community could conduct research, members from the organization formed partnerships with scientists and worked to create research projects that included community input and participation.

MBCW believes that those people closest to the problem are best able to provide the most reliable information. Research should be conducted with community involvement and then shared with those affected and presented in an honest manner.

To that end, MBCW established some of the first community-based research projects in Marin County. With community input, the organization completed and published its first research project in 2003, the Adolescent Risk Factors Study, which looked at whether adolescent experiences and exposures are different between women who have breast cancer and those who have not. The organization has also completed two other research projects that looked at potential risk factors in the environment.

Drawing on its experience and partnerships, MBCW worked with a leading group of Bay Area researchers and scientists to submit a proposal to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to create a research center that looks at breast cancer and the environment. In October, 2003, the NIEHS came to Marin to announce the creation of the Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center. It is one of four research centers created around the country. MBCW will play a leadership role in the Center and is responsible for communicating the finds with the local community.

Today, MBCW has solid partnerships, both locally and nationally, with respected researchers, elected officials, business leaders, health care officials and many other organizations. MBCW puts on educational events and community workshops, hosts an annual awards celebration for members of the community, known as Honor Thy Healer, who help heal women with breast cancer, and works with key decision-makers to advocate for policies that will help find the causes of breast cancer.

Through the work of MBCW and its many partners, the staggering rates of breast cancer in Marin have received international attention and focus.

As an organization, MBCW is committed to understanding why Marin County has one of the highest breast cancer rates in the world. MBCW is dedicated to sharing the information it receives with the community and will continue to look for answers to the many questions facing women in Marin.


MBCW is an established leader in conducting breast cancer research and searching for the causes of the disease.

Since its creation in 1995, MBCW has quickly become a recognized leader in the effort to find the causes of breast cancer. Accomplishments for the organization include:

  • MBCW was the first organization to inform the community that Marin County is an area with a history of high incidence and mortality rates.
  • MBCW is the only Bay Area breast cancer organization actively participating in research on the causes of breast cancer, and has created a model for incorporating community input into research projects.
  • MBCW was the first organization to complete and publish in a peer-reviewed journal a Marin County Study funded by the California Breast Cancer Research Program on Adolescent Risk Factors and the Development of Breast Cancer.
  • MBCW co-sponsored a Town Hall meeting in October 2002 with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences titled, “Voices for a Healthy Community: Breast Cancer and the Environment.”
  • The Town Hall meeting led to the formation of a Bay Area group comprised of researchers, scientists and community groups who came together to submit a proposal for the creation of a Bay Area research center focused on breast cancer and the environment. The Center was awarded on October 2003. MBCW will lead the community outreach portion of the Center.
  • This initial MBCW Adolescent Risk Factors Study spawned additional research studies and new collaborations among MBCW, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the Marin County Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHS). The studies sought to:
    • Describe the breast cancer incidence in Marin County (DHHS)
    • Describe the breast cancer risk factor distributions in Marin County (LBNL)
    • Further study if living in Marin is a breast cancer risk factor (MBCW/UCSF)
    • Develop an environmental database for Marin County (MBCW)
    • Facilitate information exchange between breast cancer research and the community (MBCW/DHHS)
    • Investigate the feasibility of other projects and identify priorities for
      future activities (DHHS)
    • Pilot the Personal Environmental Risk Factor Study (LBNL/MBCW/UCSF)
  • MBCW created the Adolescent Breast Cancer Prevention, Risk Reduction and Education Project in 2003 to reach out to adolescent girls in the community and motivate them to reduce future breast cancer risk by practicing healthy behaviors.
  • MBCW created the annual Honor Thy Healer awards ceremony in 1999 to recognize and share the stories of amazing members of the community who have helped women with breast cancer during their healing process. The event is widely seen as one of the most inspirational and moving celebrations in Marin.
  • MBCW created the Dipsea Hike/Run in honor of Annie Fox, a MBCW board member who lost her own battle with cancer in 2002. The event is designed to honor Annie and highlight the importance of exercise in the fight against breast cancer. The event takes place on the famed Dipsea trail on Mt. Tamalpais.
  • MBCW played a major role in working with the Marin County Health Department and others to advocate for state and federal breast cancer research funds to come to Marin County, including $250,000 from the state and $250,000 from the Centers for Disease Control in fiscal year 2000 and $500,000 from the federal government for 2003.

Core Principles

  • Every community needs their originators and risk takers – we are the pioneers of Community Based Research in Marin
  • We bring together diverse perspectives on health and social issues
  • We focus on how the environment affects breast cancer
  • We accelerate discovery by bringing together experts, resources and information
  • We actively pursue reducing breast cancer risk for the next generation


MBCW is committed to advocating for policies and programs that will reduce the future risk of breast cancer. Working with community leaders, elected officials at all levels, and other non-profit organizations, MBCW urges the use of the Precautionary Principle as a guideline in environmental decision-making.

What is the Precautionary Principle?
When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken, even if a scientific cause and effect relationship has not yet been established.


MBCW is often in the news, both locally and nationally, and actively works to promote and highlight important research projects, educational opportunities and events that help draw attention to Marin County’s breast cancer problem.


MBCW is an established leader in conducting breast cancer research and has redefined the way community organizations can participate in scientific studies. With a commitment to look at potential environmental causes of breast cancer, MBCW has created a unique and effective approach to breast cancer research.

MBCW has a simple belief: the people who live in a particular community can be invaluable contributors to the research process. That is why MBCW created an innovative way to conduct breast cancer research:


We LISTEN to the concerns of our community, then PARTNER with scientists and researchers from established institutions to conduct original breast cancer RESEARCH. Once scientific research is completed, we COMMUNICATE the findings back to the community to help prompt ACTION – either for more research studies or to impact public policy.
MBCW has collaborated with scientific researchers from the University of California, San Francisco; Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories; Kaiser Permanente; the Marin County Health Department, and many other partners to conduct breast cancer research in Marin.

What is community-based research?
Community-based research is a process by which members of a community identify a problem, engage outside researchers in a collaborative that promotes co-learning, and achieve a balance between research and action.

Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center
In October 2003, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences funded a breast cancer research center in the Bay Area that will look at breast cancer and the environment.

The Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center is one of four research centers created by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to investigate potential environmental factors that could lead to breast cancer.

The Center is a collaborative effort among Bay Area institutions, researchers, scientists and advocacy groups to harness the expertise in the region and work together to better understand the causes of breast cancer and what can be done to prevent it.

Initially, there will be two main areas of research focus. One project will study how the developmental steps of the mammary gland and use mouse models to test the effects of exposure to potential environmental stressors. The second project will be to conduct an epidemiological study of the determinants of puberty in girls. Attention will be paid to understanding the shift toward earlier puberty among adolescent girls, the identification of environmental exposures in young girls, and the interplay between genetic polymorphisms and environmental exposures that may put them at risk for future breast cancer.

One of the strengths of the Center will be its commitment to communicate its efforts with the local community. Marin Breast Cancer Watch will lead the Community Outreach and Translational Core (COTC), which seeks to facilitate two-way communication between scientists and the community.

The effort to a secure a Center in the Bay Area started last year after Marin Breast Cancer Watch co-hosted a town hall meeting with the UC Berkeley NIEHS Center titled: “Voices for a Healthy Community: Breast Cancer and the Environment.” The town hall created a dialogue between scientists and the community on breast cancer, identified areas of future breast cancer research, and created opportunities for further collaboration among cancer groups, concerned health professionals, scientists, public policy advocates, government officials and community members.

At the town hall, NIEHS Director Dr. Kenneth Olden announced the agency would award funding for centers in the coming year. A Bay Area group soon formed and began drafting a proposal. Shortly thereafter, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) helped secure a commitment from four federal health agencies to study Marin County’s breast cancer rate and allocate resources for the effort.

The Research Center and the other centers in a national network supported by the NIH will focus attention on adolescence, a vulnerable period of breast development thought to play a critical role in the future development of breast cancer.

The BABCERC has a broad group of collaborators, including the University of California, San Francisco; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories; Kaiser Permanente; California DHS; Marin Breast Cancer Watch; San Francisco DHHS; the Marin County Health Department; and Roswell Park Cancer Institute.


MBCW works to facilitate an active exchange of information with community members. Through workshops, forums and community education programs, MBCW translates complex research projects to make science more understandable and to promote community action.

Education Programs Include:

  • Workshops on conducting community-based research and understanding breast cancer research techniques.
  • Community forums and town hall meetings with national breast cancer researchers.
  • Outreach to adolescent girls to give them information to make healthy choices about their lives.


In the Community

MBCW is an active partner in the community and works to include as many supporters as possible in the activities of the organization.

  • Honor Thy Healer
    Each year, MBCW hosts an awards luncheon to recognize individuals who play the important role of supporter and healer in breast cancer treatment, either in a professional or personal way.
  • Dipsea Hike/Run
    To promote the importance of physical fitness in the fight against breast cancer, MBCW holds an annual Dipsea Hike/Run on the famed route on Mount Tamalpais. The event is held in honor of former MBCW board member Annie Fox, who passed away in 2002 at age 35 after a fight against breast cancer.

Upcoming Events

Honor Thy Healer Celebration – Call for Nominations
The annual Honor Thy Healer Celebration will be held on Thursday April 7, 2005.

When: Thursday, April 7, 2005
When: 6:00 p.m.
Where: Peacock Gap Country Club


Do you have a story of a healthcare professional or any special individual who has played a pivotal role in helping someone in their experience with breast cancer?

We want to hear from you!

Your nominee for our Honor Thy Healer Awards could be chosen for recognition at our annual celebration and serve as inspiration to countless others!

There are two community-nominated categories:

Healing Professional Award
Nominees can range from physicians and nurses to social workers, hospice workers, and complementary or alternative practitioners. We are interested in healers of every sense of the word.

Healing Partner Award
Nominees can be anyone who has helped a friend or a loved one through their experience with this disease.

Just write a brief description of the nominee’s endeavors, accomplishments and attributes and deliver no later than Monday, January 31, 2005 at 5:00 pm (Please limit your narrative to 250 words or less)


Below are links to Web sites with important information on breast cancer.

California Breast Cancer Research Program
Cornell University
Marin County Health Department
Marin Man To Man
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
National Institutes of Health
Northern California Cancer Center
Silent Spring Institute
Susan Love


Become a Marin Breast Cancer Watch Volunteer!

Marin Breast Cancer Watch is looking for dedicated volunteers to assist with events, mailings, special projects and data entry. If you are interested being part of the effort to find the causes of breast cancer,