Every October since 1985, the pink ribbon, symbol of the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), is seen everywhere.
It is prominently displayed on TV ads, posters, and in women’s magazines. Women proudly pin the pink ribbon to their blouses. The pink ribbon has become synonymous with support, courage, and caring.
During National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, multitudes of fundraising runs, hikes, walks, and other events raise over a hundred million dollars towards the goal of conquering breast cancer. High-profile companies such as Avon, Lee Denim, Revlon, Ford, and Yoplait Yogurt all get into the act by donating a very small percentage of their profits from designated goods or services. By far the largest organization associated with NBCAM, and the one with the highest profile, is the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which has been hugely successfully in sponsoring over one hundred fundraising runs with over 1.5 million participants worldwide.
Breast cancer is a modern day epidemic (what used to be a one-in-20 incidence is now one in nine in Canada and one in eight in the US) with an estimated 21,200 Canadian women being diagnosed with the disease this year. Tragically, 5,200 of those women will die from it. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in Canadian women and the incidence continues to climb at the rate of two percent each year.
So let’s all join in, don those running shoes, proudly display our pink ribbons, and take to the roads, right? Hang on a minute. Before you get swept up by the emotional frenzy of this call to arms, there is something you must know.
Who’s Behind the Pink Ribbon?
As the primary multimillion-dollar corporate sponsor of NBCAM, pharmaceutical giant AtraZeneca, formerly Zeneca before merging with Swedish pharmaceutical Astra, was owned by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), a leading international manufacturer of industrial chemicals and carcinogenic pesticides. ICI manufactures the plastic ingredient polyvinyl chloride, which has been directly linked to breast cancer and the pesticide acetochlor, classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a “probably human carcinogen.”
AstraZeneca also manufactures pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. ICI and AstraZeneca’s chemical plants daily release potential cancer-causing pollution into the environment. And, to top off their profitable investments, AstraZeneca also owns Salick Health Care, a wholly-owned subsidiary of AstraZeneca, provides consulting services, and manages the operation of numerous comprehensive cancer care facilities throughout the United States.
There is deafening silence by all NBCAM programs when it comes to telling women about environmental carcinogens. After all, if it became general knowledge that AstraZeneca’s chemical products and factories directly contribute to the breast cancer epidemic, it would certainly sully their well-oiled PR campaign.
Many experts predicted decades ago that widespread use of synthetic chemicals would increase cancer rates. From 1940 through the 1980s, billions of tons of toxic chemicals were released into the environment. These toxic time bombs are now found in everything and everywhere.
Scientists at the 23rd Congress of the International Association for Breast Cancer Research reported in 2001 (Breast Cancer Research, 2001) that chlorine-based chemicals were linked to the breast cancer epidemic. Their findings revealed that women with the highest concentrations of chlorine-based pesticides in their blood and fat have breast cancer risks four to 10 times higher than women with lower concentrations.
Unfortunately, the irrefutable evidence linking chemical pollutants to breast cancer is not acknowledged by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. In fact, its literature claims that the cause of breast cancer is unknown and it cannot be prevented. Even though the Society recognizes that 70 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no known lifestyle and genetic risk factors, the Breast Cancer Society doesn’t seem to see the connection to environmental toxins. They define prevention simply as early detection and diagnosis.
Samuel Epstein, MD, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the
University of Illinois School of Public Health, has criticized the cancer establishment. “Over recent decades, the incidence of cancer has escalated to epidemic proportions while our ability to treat and cure most cancers remains virtually unchanged.”
Dr. Epstein notes that “apart from the important role of tobacco, there is substantial and long-standing evidence relating this epidemic to involuntary and avoidable exposure to industrial carcinogens in air, water, and the workplace and consumer products. Nevertheless, the priorities of the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society remains narrowly fixated on damage control – diagnosis and treatment – and on basic molecular research, with relative indifference to, if not always benign neglect of, prevention. Concerns over this imbalance are further compounded by serious questions of conflicts of interest, particularly with the multibillion-dollar cancer drug industry.”
Perhaps we can forgive AstraZeneca’s involvement with carcinogenic chemicals since it researched and patented the most popular breast cancer treatment, tamoxifen (sales of which grossed $573 million annually worldwide). Or, perhaps not.
In May of 2000, tamoxifen was listed as a “known human carcinogen” by the National Toxicology Program of the US government. It was found that tamoxifen increased the incidence of uterine, liver, stomach, and colorectal cancers. In addition, tamoxifen increased the risk of strokes, blood clots, eye damage, menopausal symptoms, and depression.
Even tamoxifen’s role in preventing breast cancer is questionable. While one study found that tamoxifen may reduce the incidence of contralateral breast cancer (occurring in the opposite breast) in premenopausal women, another study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2001) found that tamoxifen not only failed to reduce contralateral cancers in premenopausal women, it actually increased their incidence for the disease.
In 1998 the Susan G. Komen Foundation was the only national breast cancer group to endorse tamoxifen as a prevention treatment for healthy but high-risk women, despite no conclusive evidence of its protective effects. Most other breast cancer groups vehemently opposed this decision. Could the fact that the Komen Foundation’s close ties with tamoxifen’s manufacturer, AstraZeneca – which makes educational grants to the Foundation – have something to do with its position? And are women the benefactors or the pawns of such enmeshed corporate involvement?
Mammograms: The Risk of Radiation
Since the NBCAM spin-doctors claim that breast cancer is “simply not a preventable disease,” the focus has shifted to early detection. Women are now encouraged to get their yearly mammogram. At one time screening was recommended only to women over the age of 50. Now the campaign is targeting 40 year olds and even women as young as 25. However, detecting breast cancer with mammography is not the same as protection from breast cancer. It is certainly not prevention.
Questions are being raised about the validity of mammograms. A mammogram is an x-ray. The only acknowledged cause of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, is radiation. And when it comes to radiation, there is no safe level of exposure.
For more than twenty years, Dr. John Gofman has been publishing studies of the hazards of low-level radiation. From his research, Dr. Gofman has gathered sufficient evidence to link medical radiation as a principle cause for the growing rates of cancer deaths in the United States during the twentieth century.
Dr. Samuel Epstein concurs. “There is clear evidence,” he writes, “that the breast, particularly in premenopausal women, is highly sensitive to radiation, with estimates of increased risk of up to one percent for every RAD (radiation absorbed dose) unit of X-ray exposure. Even for low-dosage exposure of two RADs or less, this exposure can add up quickly for women having an annual mammography.”
While the virtues of mammography have been lavishly extolled for decades, information about radiation’s downside, especially its link to breast cancer, has rarely been offered. In fact, no trials or studies were ever conducted on the safety of mammograms, especially when used longterm and on premenopausal women.
In 1995 a study published in the British medical journal The Lancet reported that since mammography screening was introduced, the incidence of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which represents 12 percent of all breast cancer cases, has increased by 328 percent – and 200 perecnt of this increase is attributable to the use of mammography. Since the inception of widespread mammographic screening, the increase for women under the age of 40 has gone up over 3,000 percent.
Cancer-screening programs are built on the assumption that “early detection saves lives.” However, in 2000, a large-sample, longterm Canadian study showed that annual mammograms were no more effective in preventing deaths from breast cancer for women in their 50s than periodic physical examinations. A study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (1999) stated that mammography offers the greatest potential benefit for women between the ages of 50 and 69. The addition of annual mammography screening to physical examination has had no impact on breast cancer survival rates. Smaller cancers can be detected, but, ultimately, the mortality rate was the same.
Mammograms are screening tools, not diagnostic tests, which frequently lead to unnecessary breast biopsies. According to the Merck Manual, for every case of breast cancer diagnosed each year, from five to 10 women will needlessly undergo a painful breast biopsy. Mammograms can actually increase the risk for developing breast cancer and raise the risk of spreading or metastasizing an existing growth.
However, there is a superior screening technique called digital infrared thermography (DIT), that is able to detect breast cancer much earlier, because it can image the early stages of angiogenesis as a “hot spot.” Angiogenesis is the formation of a direct supply of blood to cancer cells, a necessary step before they can grow into larger tumours. DIT is safe, non-toxic, non-invasive, and painless. It can also detect abnormalities five to ten years before they are detected by mammography or a physical exam.
It should come as no surprise that safer and more effective screening techniques such as thermography have been vigorously attacked by NBCAM organizations.
So, all the hullabaloo that comes each October enlisting women’s support and hard-earned cash really does very little to eliminate the causes of this devastating disease. Instead, women’s heartfelt desires and good intentions are usurped by the hidden agendas of major cancer organizations and corporations committed to pushing their toxic drug treatments, dangerous diagnostic tools, and environmental pollutants.
In truth, NBCAM is the public-relations invention of a major polluter that puts women in the position of being unwitting allies of the very people who are making them sick.
Think Outside the Pink
Women can make the difference in eliminating breast cancer. The breast cancer epidemic is not some great mystery. The causes of cancer are already known: toxic diets, toxic lifestyles, toxic emotions, toxic environments, toxic chemicals, toxic drug treatments, and toxic diagnostics. When it comes to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, women must invest their time, energy, and money into the projects, initiatives, and treatments that will truly create change.
One alternative effort is Rachel Carson Day, which is held each year on May 27th, the birthday of the renowned environmentalist. It is celebrated in Canada as a way to lobby against known environmental carcinogens, including PVC, radiation, pesticides, dioxins, and chlorine.
Instead of allowing major corporations or other vested interests to define the agenda, National
Breast Cancer Awareness Month can indeed be a powerful time to educate, awaken, and empower women to the real causes, preventive measures, and effective cures for breast cancer.
If you’re going to be racing for the cure, choose your race very carefully.
Alternative Breast Cancer Action
Rachel Carson Day (healthybreastprogram.on.ca)
Breast Cancer Research and Education Fund (breastcancerref.org/home.shtml)
Women’s Healthy Environments Network (whenvironments.ca)
Digital Infrared Thermography (medthermonline.com, thermascan.com)