Every October since 1985, the recognizable symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, pink ribbons, are displayed on TV, poster and magazine advertisements as well as proudly adorn women's lapels. The multitudes of runs, hikes, walks and other fundraising events raise hundred of millions of dollars to conquer that dreaded scourge of the modern woman, breast cancer. High-profile companies like Avon, Lee Denim and Revlon have joined ranks along with the Susan G. Komen Foundation's "Race for the Cure" and the L.A. City of Hope Hospital's "Walk for Hope." Popular celebrities lead the charge.
Each year 180,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 44,000 will die of the disease. The U.S. has one of the highest breast cancer rates in the world. Fifty years ago the incidence for a woman's life-time risk was one in 20. Now it has skyrocketed to one in eight. Clearly the so-called war on cancer has not even made a dent in to the breast cancer epidemic as the rates continue to climb at the rate of 1 percent a year.
The motto of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is "Early Detection is Your Best Protection." The National Cancer Institute stated in 1995 that "Breast cancer is simply not a preventable disease." This tune was reiterated in 1997 by the American Cancer Society's announcement that "there are no practical ways to prevent breast cancer -- only early detection." So mammograms are the front line of defence. Celebrities like Rosie O'Donnell offer free t-shirts with the honorable words "I've been Squished" if you'll just make a date with your local x-ray department.
So let's all join in and wave our pink ribbons and don those running shows and take to the roads, right? Before you get swept up by the emotional frenzy of this call to arms, there is something you must know.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month's primary sponsor and the mastermind of the event in 1985 was Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, now known as AstraZeneca. Zeneca is the company that manufactures the controversial and widely prescribed breast cancer drug, tamoxifen. All TV, radio and print media are paid for and must be approved by AstraZeneca.
It is less known that Zeneca also makes herbicides and fungicides. One of their products, the organochlorine pesticide acetochlor, is implicated as a causal factor in breast cancer. Its Perry, Ohio chemical plant is the third largest source of potential cancer-causing pollution in the U.S., spewing 53,000 pounds of recognized carcinogens into the air in 1996.
When it comes to the environmental carcinogens found in pesticides, herbicides, plastics and other toxic chemicals, there is booming silence by all Breast Cancer Awareness Month programs. Did the alarming increase of breast cancer rates just mysteriously happen? Or perhaps, the focus on the cure has conveniently ignored the cause? After all, it wouldn't really be good PR for Zeneca to have it known that their chemical products directly contribute to the breast cancer epidemic.
Many experts predicted as far back as 30 years ago that cancer rates would increase citing an explosion of synthetic chemicals. From 1940 through the early 1980s production of synthetic chemicals increased by a factor of 350. Billions of tons of substances that never exited before were released into the environment. Yet only 3 percent of the 75,000 chemicals in use have been tested for safety. These toxic time bombs are everywhere -- in our water, air and food. They are also found in the workplace, in schools, in household cleaners, cosmetics and personal care products. Women who live near toxic waste dumps have 6.5 times the incidence of breast cancer.
A survey conducted by Dr. Mary Wolff of Mt. Sinai Hospital, New York found that women with breast cancer had four times the levels of DDE found in non-carcinogenic tumors. Also, another study investigating why upper-class women in the community of Newton, Massachusetts had higher breast cancer rates than the lower economic women. The researchers attributed the increase to greater use of professional lawn care service and more dry cleaning.
The pesticide/breast cancer link was stunningly highlighted in research from Israel, which linked three organochlorine pesticides detected in dairy products to an increase of 12 types of cancer in 10 different strains of mice. After public outcry in 1978 forced the Israeli government to ban the pesticides benzene hexachloride, DDT, and lindane, breast cancer mortality rates, which had increased every year for 25 years, dropped nearly 8 percent for all age groups and more than a third for women ages 25-34 in 1986.
The American Cancer Society was founded with the support of the Rockefeller family in 1913. Members of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry have long had a place on its board. Could that have something to do with the fact that the American Cancer Society's latest report on cancer prevention makes no mention of environmental factors?
Perhaps we can forgive Zeneca's involvement with carcinogenic chemicals, since it researched and patented the most popular breast cancer treatment, Tamoxifen, grossing $500 million annually. Perhaps not. On May 16, 2000 the New York Times reported that the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences listed substances that are known to cause cancer. Tamoxifen was included in that list!!
It is known that tamoxifen causes uterine cancer, liver cancer and gastrointestinal cancer. After just two to three years of use, tamoxifen will increase the incidence of uterine cancer by two to three times. The treatment for uterine cancer is a hysterectomy. In addition, tamoxifen increased the risk of strokes, blood clots, eye damage, menopausal symptoms, and depression.
The biggest shock of all is the fact that tamoxifen will increase the risk of breast cancer! The journal Science published a study from Duke Universtiy Medical Center in 1999 showing that after 2-5 years, tamoxifen actually initiated the growth of breast cancer!
So, Zeneca, the originator of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is the manufacturer of carcinogenic petrochemicals, carcinogenic pollutants and a breast cancer drug that causes at least four different types of cancer in women, including breast cancer. Is something wrong with this picture?
Since the Breast Cancer Awareness Month spin doctors claim that breast cancer is "simply not a preventable disease," the focus has shifted to the theme of early detection. Women are now encouraged to get their early mammogram. At one time, only women 50 years or older were told to get this screening. 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 a protection from breast cancer.
Questions are being raised about the validity of mammograms. A mammogram is an x-ray. The only acknowledged cause of cancer by the American Cancer Society is from radiation. When it comes to radiation, there is no safe level of exposure.
"There is clear evidence 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," notes Samuel Epstein, M.D., professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health. "More recent concern comes from evidence that one percent of women, or over one million women in the United States alone, carry a gene that increases their breast cancer risk from radiation fourfold."
In addition, mammography provides false tumor reports between 5 and 15 percent of the time. False positive results cause women to be re-exposed to additional x-rays and create an environment of further stress, even possibly leading to unneeded surgery.
"Furthermore," says Dr. Epstein, "while there is a general consensus that mammography improves early cancer detection and survival in post-menopausal women, no such benefit is demonstrable for younger women." Still, the American Cancer Society recommends annual or biannual mammography for all women ages 40 to 55 or earlier.
"Mammograms increase the risk for developing breast cancer and raise the risk of spreading or metastasizing an existing growth," says Dr. Charles B. Simone, a former clinical associate in immunology and pharmacology at the National Cancer Institute. Safer and even more effective diagnostic techniques like infrared thermography have been vigorously attacked by the Breast Cancer Awareness organizations.
It is also noteworthy to point out that General Electric, a major polluter in PCBs in the Hudson River, N.Y., manufactures mammography machines.
So all the hullabaloo that comes each October, enlisting women's support and hard-earned cash does nothing to really eliminate the cause of this devastating disease. Instead, women's heart-felt desires and good intentions to find the cause and cure are usurped by the hidden agendas of major transnational corporations pushing their toxic drug treatments and diagnostic tools that actually create even more breast cancer. Is it really profitable to find safe, non-toxic cures and screening methods?
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 environments, toxic drug treatments and toxic diagnostic techniques cause cancer. Corporations are only interested in increasing their profits and ensuring their tentacles of control not in actual solutions. When it comes to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, women must invest their time and money into other projects, initiatives and treatments that will truly create change.
Some of the most immediate steps women can take toward creating a preventative program include:
Eating as many organic foods as possible. They are not only free of harmful chemicals but also have much greater nutritional value.
Eliminate all commercial household cleaning products and toxic garden pesticides -- replace with safe, organic and biodegradable brands.
Drink pure, filtered water.
Refuse steroid hormone treatments such as HRT and The Pill -- these are known to initiate and promote breast cancer.
Seek out the many natural approaches to regain hormonal balance.
Detoxify the body and reduce stress.
Investigate safe screening techniques such as thermography, especially if you are premenopausal.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is indeed a powerful time to educate, awaken and empower women to the real causes, preventative measures and truly effective cures for breast cancer. But, let's not be duped or compromised in the process.