FOR YOUR INFORMATION FROM
PROFITING OFF OF BREAST CANCER
In the last two decades, more American women have died of breast cancer than all Americans killed in Korea, Vietnam and both world wars. Of the 180,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer this year, about 46,000 will die of the disease. - Tracy Baxter.
THE SPONSORSHIP SCAM: October has been National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) since 1985, and this month, in addition to examining our breasts, it's high time we examined the corporate motives behind this event. For, while public educations is vital to defeating this disease, NBCAM publicity and events focus exclusively on detection, ignoring any mention of prevention - including possible environmental causes. "the sole mission of NBCAM is to promote the importance of the three-step application to early detection: mammography, clinical breast exam and breast self-exam," says NBCAM's promotional brochure.
Although early detection through routine mammography screening does save some lives, the brochure neglects to mention that medical irradiation, including mammography and other X-rays, is a known cause of breast cancer in younger women. Nor does it mention that 7 of 11 recent studies on the relationship between breast cancer and organochlorine chemicals, including dioxin and pesticides like DDT, found elevated organochlorine levels in breast cancer victims. Why these omissions? Can it be because the founder of NBCAM manufactures carcinogenic chemicals as well as breast cancer treatment drugs?
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was established by Zeneca Group PLC, a bioscience company with 1997 sales of $8.62 billion. Forty-nine percent of Zeneca's 1997 profits came from pesticides and other industrial chemicals, and 40% were from pharmaceutical sales, one-third (about $1.4 billion's worth) of which were cancer treatment drugs. The remaining 2% of Zeneca's profits derived from health care services, including the 11 cancer treatment centers Zeneca operates across the U.S. (Another Zeneca product: the bioengineered, thick-skinned tomato.) The herbicide acetochlor, considered a probable human carcinogen by the EPA, accounted for around $300 million of Zeneca's 1997 sales. Tamoxifen citrate (Nolvadex(TM)), the most commonly prescribed breast cancer treatment drug on the market, accounted for $500 million.
When asked why prevention is not a priority of NBCAM, Debbie Ashcraft, Zeneca Pharmaceuticals' NBCAM Project Coordinator, replied that the company was hopeful tamoxifen will soon be approved for preventive use by the FDA. An FDA scientific advisory panel voted overwhelmingly in September to recommend approval of tamoxifen for reducing the incidence of breast cancer in healthy women at high risk of developing the disease.
This decision was reached in response to a four-year trial, concluded in April, by the National Cancer Institute of 13,388 "high risk" women. NCI found that tamoxifen decreased the incidence of breast cancer by almost one-half. Unfortunately, women in the tamoxifen group also had twice the incidence of uterine (endometrial) cancer, three times the rate of pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in the lungs) and 50% more cases of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in major veins). Five women in each group died: all five from breast cancer in the placebo group; and three from breast cancer and two from pulmonary embolisms, a side effect of the drug, in the tamoxifen group.
Ironically, the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer considers tamoxifen a "probable human carcinogen." It stands to reason that Zeneca, with $1.4 billion in annual sales of cancer treatment drugs, wouldn't be interested in prevention unless, as with tamoxifen, it means further profits, regardless of the potential health risks. WHAT YOU CAN DO: To reduce your risk of breast cancer, Devra Lee Davis, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the World Resource Institute, advises, "Eat less meat and more vegetables and fruit; exercise regularly; avoid excessive alcohol and minimal fat." And perform breast self-exams monthly.
Dr. Davis also urges that we as a society focus on improving workplace and product safety and, foremost, on reducing the use of hazardous materials. As the late Congresswoman Bella Abzug said at the 1997 World Conference on Breast Cancer, "We must take on the nuclear industry, the chemical industry, the makers and users of pesticides and organochlorines, and the other potential sources of poison in our breasts and bodies. And ... demand action from our governments to legislate, regulate and discipline transnational corporations and this out-of-control global economy."
Whether women should begin mammography screening at age 40 or 50 remains controversial, but there seems to be consensus that its benefits outweigh its risks for women ages 50 to 70. This decision is ultimately up to each woman and her physician. Three safer detection techniques, involving heat imaging, lasers, and magnetic resonance imaging, are undergoing tests for effectiveness.
Resources: Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), 212/973-0325.
The Women's Community Cancer Project, 617/354-9888. Breast Cancer: Poisons, Profits,
and Prevention by Liane Clorfene-Casten, (Common Courage Press, 1996). The Breast
Cancer Prevention Program by Samuel Epstein, M.D., and David Steinman (Macmillan,
(Reprint, The Green Guide, 888/326-4636)
Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.
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