National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) was conceived and paid for by a British chemical company that both profits from this epidemic and may be contributing to its cause. Imperial Chemical Industries (I.C.I.), along with two nonprofit cancer groups, co-founded BCAM (pronounced beecam) nine years ago. The event has grown in influence--the thirteen institutions now on its board include the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute--and has become fashionable: Avon, Estee Lauder and Hanes lead the corporate parade. But since the beginning, all BCAM's bills have been paid by Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, the new name of I.C.I.'s U.S. subsidiary. Altogether, I.C.I. has spent several million dollars on BCAM, according to Zeneca spokeswoman Lolita Thawley.
In return, I.C.I. has been allowed to control the message conveyed on every one of BCAM's hundreds of thousands of posters, pamphlets, radio spots, newspaper ads and promotional videos. And I.C.I.'s consistent message is: "Early detection is your best protection."
There's nothing wrong with the message, as far as it goes. Like other cancers, breast cancer is more curable before it has spread. But detection is not prevention. And I.C.I.'s motives for promoting early detection are suspect.
Zeneca manufacturers Nolvadex, a breast cancer treatment drug with annual sales approaching $400 million--the best-selling cancer drug of all time. Nolvadex doesn't cure cancer, but it can prevent if from spreading in women who are diagnosed early. As a result, early detection is not only good for women's health--it's also good for I.C.I.'s wealth.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a U.S. phenomenon. Not coincidentally, I.C.I. makes far more profit from its U.S. customers than it does from those n Britain. The same Nolvadex tamoxifen tablet that costs nearly $1.40 in the United States sells for 30 cents in Britain. And generic tamoxifen costs as little as 15 cents per tablet in Britain.
I.C.I.'s sponsorship of BCAM has also brought favors from the event's co-sponsors. The National Cancer Institute has rewarded I.C.I. with at least $60 million of taxpayers' money for a Breast Cancer Prevention Trial, in which 8,000 healthy women are being given tamoxifen to see if it will "prevent" brest cancer [see Adriane Fugh-Berman, M.D., "The High Risk of Prevention," December 21, 1992]. By the National Cancer Institute's own estimates, tamoxifen will prevent breast cancer in only sixty-two of the women scheduled to take it. The other 7,938 will risk uterine and liver cancer for the sake of "science"--and for the benefit of I.C.I., which would like to sell Nolvadex not only to women with breast cancer but to every woman on the planet.
But perhaps most disturbing is recent evidence that I.C.I.'s principal business--the production of synthetic chemicals--may actually be contributing to the breast cancer epidemic. With annual sales well in excess of $18 billion, I.C.I. is one of the world's largest producers and users of chlorine. Chlorine is used to make many products, including paper, plastic, paint and pesticides.
Recently, some of these chlorine-based chemicals--residues of which are present in the body tissue of people in industrialized countries--have been found to disrupt the action of hormones in a woman's body. They mimic the activity of estrogen; high levels of estrogen are associated with higher incidences of cancer. This evidence strongly suggests a relationship between breast cancer and these chemicals, though a direct link has yet to be proved. One recent study of 229 New York City women, for example, found that women with breast cancer had substantially higher levels of two such chemicals in their blood. The study's author, Dr. Mary Wolff, estimated that women with higher levels of these chemicals in their bodies were as much as four times more likely to develop breast cancer than those with lower levels.
The health hazard posed by these chlorine-based chemicals is unnecessary because clean, safe alternative have been available for years. But these factors about breast cancer are not promoted during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And I.C.I.'s production of cancer-causing chemicals is never mentioned. In fact, carcinogens are never discussed at all. Instead, I.C.I. promotes theories that link breast cancer to heredity, life style and diet--despite the fact that three out of four women who develop breast cancer have none of these risk factors.
Meanwhile, as U.S. women continue to die of breast cancer at the rate of one every twelve minutes, real "awareness" about the dirty business of breast cancer lies concealed beneath an avalanche of pink ribbons.
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|Title Annotation:||Breast Cancer Awareness Month|
|Date:||Nov 15, 1993|
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