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Barbara Brenner, 61, fiery advocate on breast cancer

NEW YORK — Barbara Brenner — who led the group Breast Cancer Action and shaped it in her own combative image, pillorying the medical establishment, industrial polluters, and even other cancer research advocates — died May 10 at her home in San Francisco. She was 61.

Suzanne Lampert, her partner of 38 years, confirmed the death, of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Ms. Brenner also had breast cancer, though it had been in remission.

She championed causes for most of her adult life, protesting the Vietnam War as a student and working on women’s rights, civil rights, and employment discrimination as a lawyer. She became Breast Cancer Action’s first executive director in 1995, two years after undergoing treatment for the disease.


She led the group until 2010, when illness forced her to retire. During her leadership, the group increased its membership to 50,000 from 3,500 and intensified its focus on demanding research into the causes of breast cancer, particularly links to environmental pollutants like chemicals in food and the water supply, an area of research rife with unreliable data.

She was among the first to question what she called the ‘‘pinkwashing’’ of America: the proliferation of pink ribbons and products carrying labels stating that part of the purchase price would go to breast cancer research. In one of many fiery posts on her blog, Healthy Barbs, she attacked another breast cancer group, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, for teaming up with KFC to produce pink buckets of chicken. Fried chicken, she said, promotes obesity, a risk factor for breast cancer.