It’s October again and time to drag out all things pink while we pass the hat for the billion dollar cancer industry. Tragically, few people are aware of the dark history of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) and the players past and present who have misused it to direct people and funds away from finding a true cure while covering up their own roles in causing and profiting from cancer.
The Founding of Breast Cancer Awareness Month
The BCAM idea was conceived and paid for by the British chemical company Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), a company that has both profited from the ever-growing cancer epidemic and contributed to its causes. The American subsidiary of Imperial Chemical Industries at the time, the pharmaceutical company ICI/Astra-Zeneca, manufactured tamoxifen, the world’s top-selling drug for breast cancer. ICI itself was in the business of manufacturing and selling synthetic chemicals and was one of the world’s largest producers and users of chlorine.
Although BCAM was co-founded along with two non-profit organizations and some big name companies were quick to associate with BCAM, for the first several years BCAM’s bills were paid by ICI’s Zeneca. In 1993, the year the pink ribbon symbol was created, ICI spun off Zeneca into a free standing pharmaceutical company.
As the controlling sponsor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), Zeneca was able to approve or veto any promotional or informational materials, posters, advertisements, etc. that BCAM used. As a result, the focus has been and is limited to information regarding early detection and treatment, with mammograms taking center stage. The topics of prevention and the role toxins play in cancer development have been strictly avoided, suggesting that the purpose of BCAM is to recruit patients for cancer treatment, not to protect women. A further look at the major players in breast cancer awareness provides plenty of insight into to why a growing number of critics are questioning this focus.
Take Zeneca for example. ICI had long been among the world’s largest manufacturers of pesticides, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. Its Perry, Ohio, chemical plant was once identified as the third-largest source of potential cancer-causing pollution in the United States, releasing 53,000 pounds of recognized carcinogens into the air in 1996.
After Zeneca acquired the Salick chain of cancer treatment centers in 1997, it then merged with Astra, a Swedish pharmaceutical company to form AstraZeneca, creating the world’s third-largest drug concern, Dr. Samuel Epstein, then a professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health stated, “This is a conflict of interest unparalleled in the history of American medicine. You’ve got a company that’s a spinoff of one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of carcinogenic chemicals, they’ve got control of breast cancer treatment, they’ve got control of the chemoprevention [studies], and now they have control of cancer treatment in eleven centers-which are clearly going to be prescribing the drugs they manufacture.”
The breakdown of $14 Billion in profits for ICI in 1997 was 49 percent from pesticides and other industrial chemicals, another 49 percent from pharmaceutical sales, and the remaining 2 percent from healthcare services, including its 11 cancer treatment centers. Zeneca’s herbicide acetochlor, which is classified by the EPA as a “probable human carcinogen”, accounted for around $300 million in sales in 1997. Their product tamoxifen citrate (Nolvadex) accounted for $500 million in 1997 sales. Cancer prevention would clearly conflict with Zeneca’s business plan.
Quickly jumping onboard the tamoxifen bandwagon was the National Cancer Institute, which announced in April, 1998 that breast cancer could be “prevented” by treating women continuously with a powerful drug called tamoxifen. The New York Times editorialized that treating women with tamoxifen was a “breast cancer breakthrough.” However, The Times later acknowledged that treating 1,000 women with tamoxifen for five years would prevent 17 breast cancers but would cause an additional 12 cases of endometrial cancer and 20 cases of serious blood clots in the same 1,000 women.
As recent studies have shown, the risks implied in those less-than breakthrough figures were vastly understated. A study recently published in the journal Cancer Research concluded that long-term use of tamoxifen increases the risk of getting aggressive cancer in the other breast by 440 percent.
Other large corporations that contribute to breast cancer awareness also have a vested interest in breast cancer. General Electric sells upwards of $100 million annually in mammography machines. General Electric has also been a major polluter of carcinogenic PCBs in the Hudson River. An estimated million pounds of PCBs lie buried at the bottom of a 40-mile stretch of the Hudson, where GE dumped PCB oil until the mid-1970s, contaminating the entire 200-mile length of the river below Hudson Falls.
DuPont, another huge chemical company and major polluter, supplies much of the film used in mammography machines. Both DuPont and GE have aggressively promoted mammography screening of women in their 40s, despite the high risk of its radiation exposure contributing to breast cancer in that age group. And while biotech giant Monsanto sponsors Breast Cancer Awareness Month’s high profile event, the Race for the Cure, it continues to profit from the production of many known carcinogens.
Another large player is Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), with its Tour of Hope and promotions such as ten cent donations for drug store sales of selected BMS products. BMS is also the manufacturer of Taxol (under the trade name of Paclitaxel), considered to be “the gold standard” of chemo drugs. This so-called “gold standard” is finally losing its luster, as a presenter at the 27th Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium reported:
“German investigators from Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, have shown that taxol causes a massive release of cells into circulation. Such a release of cancer cells would result in extensive metastasis months or even years later, long after the chemo would be suspected as the cause of the spread of the cancer.” This little known horror of conventional cancer treatment needs to be spread far and wide, but it is not even listed in the side effects of taxol.
The list of corporate donors and players in breast cancer awareness goes on and on, including other chemical and pharmaceutical companies, cosmetic companies, fast food restaurants, donut and cookie makers, and many more. They all share the common traits of promoting “awareness” which does not include the role their own products play, and promoting early screening through mammograms. Likewise, other charities and foundations – and their sponsors – have joined the pink bandwagon. They too have the common links of promoting early detection primarily through mammograms, and remaining mostly silent about toxins and other environmental factors.
The Foundations and Charities
A pink giant among breast cancer foundations is the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, famous for its annual Race for the Cure, and holder of a long list of corporate sponsors, including in their Million Dollar Elite Club such notables as General Mills and Mars Snackfoods. The Komen Foundation advertises a lengthy list of breast cancer risk factors, yet does not list exposure to toxins among them.
As noted in the 2003 article Compromised: “Participants in the Race for the Cure are often greeted as they cross the finish line with live music, inspirational speakers and acres of colorfully adorned corporate booths. Pink, the chosen color of the international breast cancer movement, is seen everywhere on hats, T-shirts, teddy bears and ribbons. A sense of community and camaraderie pervades this celebration by thousands of breast cancer survivors and friends of survivors.”
“What’s missing is the truth,” says Judy Brady of the Toxic Links Coalition in San Francisco. She wants to see a cure for breast cancer as much as anyone, but she and her group, along with several other activist breast cancer groups, have something to point out about the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s activities: “There’s no talk about prevention except, in terms of lifestyle, your diet for instance. No talk about ways to grow food more safely. No talk about how to curb industrial carcinogens. No talk about contaminated water.”
Though giving some lip service to the “debate over mammograms”, the Komen Foundation nevertheless promotes mammograms as an important screening tool and still recommends that women get regular mammograms starting at age 40, stating that “despite some ongoing debate, mammography is still the best screening tool widely used today for the early detection of breast cancer.”
The Komen Foundation owns stock in General Electric and its mammogragraphy machines. It also owns stock in several pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca (now Azko Nobel).
AstraZeneca has long been a Komen booster, making educational grants to Komen and having a visible presence at the Race For the Cure. At the 1998 Food and Drug Administration hearings, the Komen Foundation was the only national breast cancer group to endorse the Astra Zeneca cancer treatment drug, tamoxifen, as a prevention device for healthy but high-risk women, despite vehement opposition by most other breast cancer groups because of its links to uterine cancer.
Another prominent breast cancer organization is the National Breast Cancer Foundation, whose stated mission is “to save lives by increasing awareness of breast cancer through education and by providing mammograms for those in need.” Their national mammography program includes a program for donation of free mammograms . Their education includes nothing about toxicity and the environmental causes of cancer.
Similarly, the Prevent Cancer Foundation, gives advice on how to prevent and detect cancer, but fails to include toxins and environmental factors, and is yet another foundation which heavily promotes mammograms. Currently, they are promoting their Pledge to Screen Your Boobs & Enter to Win a Pink Vespa program, seeking donations and stating, “Early detection and screening can help to stop breast cancer before it strikes”.
In other words, according to the various foundations and organizations which advocate screening and mammograms, the way to “stop cancer before it strikes” is to detect it after it has already struck.
Click Here For Part Two of Hiding the Truth Behind the Sea of Pink
Other sources for this three-part article include: