October is breast cancer awareness month and millions of Canadians will sport pink ribbons in support of breast cancer research. In the United Kingdom, however, not all women are wearing the pink ribbon; many are adorned with a pin of the borage flower. The Director of the United Kingdom Cancer Research Campaign states, “This humble herb holds great potential as we strive to find new treatments for cancer.”  What do they know that North Americans don’t?

A British study published in 2000 observed women who had locally advanced and metastatic breast cancer (when cancer cells have spread out from the primary tumour). Researchers found that women with breast cancer who were taking Tamoxifen (a common drug for estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer) and received GLA (need definition) from borage oil demonstrated faster clinical response than those taking Tamoxifen alone. Study participants received three grams of GLA daily (equivalent to 12 capsules of 1000 mg borage oil). Researchers concluded that GLA was a useful adjunct to primary Tamoxifen treatment with no serious side-effects: “our Phase II study suggests high-dose oral GLA to be a valuable new agent in the treatment of hormone-sensitive breast cancer.”

After reading John Robbins The Food Revolution (Conari Press, 2001), I think Canadian women interested in alternative non-toxic treatments should proudly display the borage flower instead of the pink ribbon. According to Robbins, “In the United States, Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, the company that sells Tamoxifen under the brand name Nolvadex, is the very company that sponsors the highly publicized annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”

Breast Cancer Awareness Month was launched in 1987 by Zeneca’s parent company, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). This highly publicized event focuses on educating women about early detection of breast cancer with the trademarked slogan “Early Detection is Your Best Prevention” ICI/Zeneca has been the sole financial sponsor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month since the event’s start. In return for its investment of many millions of dollars, it is allowed to approve—or veto—every poster, pamphlet and advertisement breast cancer awareness month uses.”

Robbins states, “ICI is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of pesticides and plastics, and one of the world’s most notorious chemical polluters. Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, the ICI spin-off, earns more than $300 million [US] per year from the sale of acetocholor, a carcinogenic herbicide, while simultaneously marketing Tamoxifen, the world’s best-selling cancer therapy drug.”

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation states that,”The pink ribbon is the official mark of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, and is licensed exclusively to us. This is not the case in other countries. We do enter licensing agreements with other organizations, authorizing them to use the official mark under specified conditions.”

Pesticides and herbicides are estrogen-mimickers that increase our risk of developing breast cancer. The rates of ductal carcinoma and/or estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer herbicides have increased. Pesticide and plastic reduction should be part of the national breast cancer campaign.

My maternal grandmother died of breast cancer and in the past I have proudly displayed my pink ribbon every October. Not this month. Now I will be wearing the beautiful blue
borage flower to honour those women who have died from breast cancer or are still fighting the disease, to encourage more research on safe, effective treatment methods, and finally to ensure we educate ourselves on ways to prevent this deadly disease.

About the Author

Lorna Vanderhaeghe, BSc, is the author of several books, including the best-seller Healthy Immunity: Scientifically Proven Natural Treatments for Conditions from A-Z (Wiley & Sons, 2001). Her latest book is No More HRT: Menopause, Treat the Cause (Qua