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Breast Cancer - Detection or Deception?

by Sherrill Sellman(more info)

listed in cancer, originally published in issue 74 - March 2002


When it comes to finding solutions to the many problems facing our lives, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s message, “Change only takes place through action”, might very well have been the rallying call that galvanized the millions of women throughout the world to support the annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Every October since 1985, the recognizable symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the pink ribbon bow, is prominently displayed all over TV, on posters, in magazine advertisements as well as proudly adorning women’s lapels. The multitudes’ fundraising runs, hikes, walks and various other 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 LA City of Hope Hospital’s ‘Walk for Hope’. Popular celebrities have been enlisted to lead the charge.

image of woman with breast cancer

Each year 180,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 44,000 will die of the disease. The US has one of the highest breast cancer rates of any country in the world. Fifty years ago the incidence for a woman’s lifetime risk was one in twenty. Now it has skyrocketed to one in eight. Clearly the so-called war on cancer has not even made a dent in the breast cancer epidemic as the figures continue to climb at the rate of 1% a year.

The motto of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is “Early Detection is Your Best Protection”, since the National Cancer Institute stated in 1995 that “Breast cancer is simply not a preventable disease”. A similar message was reiterated in 1997 by the American Cancer Society’s announcement that “there are no practical ways to prevent breast cancer – only early detection”.[1] Therefore, mammograms then become the front line of defence. Celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell offer free T-shirts with the honourable 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 shoes 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.

Conflicts of Interest

Breast cancer Awareness Month’s primary sponsor and 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 Zeneca.

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 a major source of potential cancer-causing pollution in the US, spewing 53,000 pounds of recognized carcinogens into the air in 1996.[2]

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 programmes. 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, if it became general knowledge that Zeneca’s chemical products and factories directly contribute to the breast cancer epidemic, it would certainly sully their PR campaign.

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 existed before were released into the environment. Yet only 3% of the 75,000 chemicals in use have been tested for safety.[3] 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 (a breakdown product of the pesticide DDT) found in non-carcinogenic tumours.[4] Also, another study investigated why upper-class women in the community of Newton, Massachusetts, had higher breast cancer rates than the lower economic women.[5] The researchers attributed the increase to greater use of professional lawn-care service and more dry cleaning services, which use known carcinogenic chemicals.

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 (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and lindane – breast cancer mortality rates, which had increased every year for 25 years, dropped nearly 8% for all age groups and more than a third for women aged 25-34 in 1986.[6]

The American Cancer Society (ACS) 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. “The ACS also has close connections to the mammography industry. Five radiologists have served as ACS presidents, and in its every move the ACS reflects the interests of major manufacturers of mammography machines and film including Siemens, DuPont, General Electric, Eastman Kodak, and Piker.”[7] Could that have something to do with the fact that the ACS’s latest report on cancer prevention makes no mention of environmental factors or safer screening protocols?

Samuel Epstein MD, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, scathingly attacks 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. 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, the workplace and consumer products. Nevertheless, the priorities of the cancer establishment, the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, remain 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 multi-billion-dollar cancer drug industry.”[8]

Toxic Tamoxifen

Perhaps we can forgive Zeneca’s involvement with carcinogenic chemicals, since it researched and patented the most popular breast cancer treatment, tamoxifen, manufactured under the name of Nolvadex. This highly profitable drug grosses 500  million dollars annually. Perhaps not.

On 16 May 2000, the New York Times reported that the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences had added 14 substances to their list of known carcinogens.[9] Tamoxifen was included in that list!

However, the government’s announcement confirmed what had already been known. In May 1995, California’s expert committee, established from Proposition 65, decided to let the public know that tamoxifen use is likely to cause endometrial cancer.[10] Zeneca Pharmaceuticals did not challenge these findings.

It is known that tamoxifen causes uterine cancer, liver cancer and stomach and colorectal 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 increases 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 University Medical Center in 1999 showing that after 2 to 5 years of use, tamoxifen actually initiated the growth of breast cancer![11]

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?

Mammography Dangers

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 mammogram earlier. 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. A major acknowledged cause of cancer according to the American Cancer Society is from radiation. When it comes to radiation, there is no safe level of exposure.

For 20 years or more, John Gofman, a scientist with degrees in both chemistry and medicine, has been publishing studies of the hazards of low-level radiation. His hypothesis is that “Medical radiation is a highly important cause (probably the principal cause) of cancer mortality in the United States during the twentieth century.”[12] In other words, Gofman believes that medical X-rays are a major cause of cancer, including breast cancer and heart disease, in the US.

“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. “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.”[13]

According to Sharon Batt, author of Patient No More: The Politics of Breast Cancer, “The depths of the mammography deceit began in the early 1970s. It was concocted by insiders at the American Cancer Society (ACS) and their friends at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The number of women who were put ‘at risk’ or who died as a result of this nefarious scheme is not known but estimated to be huge.”

In 1978, Irwin J D Bross, Director of Biostatistics at Roswell Park Memorial Institute for Cancer Research, commented about the cancer screening programme:

“The women should have been given the information about the hazards of radiation at the same time they were given the sales talk for mammography. Doctors were gung-ho to use it on a large scale. They went right ahead and X-rayed not just a few women but a quarter of a million women. A jump in exposure of a quarter of a million persons to something which could do more harm than good was criminal and it was supported by money from the federal government and the American Cancer Society.”

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) was warned in 1974 by professor Malcolm C Pike at the University of Southern California School of Medicine that a number of specialists had concluded that “giving a women under age 50 a mammogram on a routine basis is close to unethical”.

“Repeat… The experts in the government were told not to do this to healthy women in the year 1974!”[14]

The Lancet reported that, since mammographic screening was introduced in 1983, the incidence of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which represents 12% of all breast cancer cases, has increased by 328%, and 200% of this increase is due to the use of mammography. This increase is for all women: since the inception of widespread mammographic screening, the increase for women under the age of 40 has gone up over 3000%.[15]

In addition, mammography provides false tumour reports between 5% and 15% 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.

In September, a large-sample, long-term Canadian study proved that an annual mammogram was no more effective in preventing deaths from breast cancer than periodic physical examinations for women in their 50s.

In the study of almost 40,000 women aged 50 to 59, half received periodic breast examinations alone and half received breast examinations plus mammograms. All learned to examine their own breasts as well. By 1993, 13 years after the study began, there were 610 cases of invasive breast cancer and 105 deaths in the women who received only breast examinations, compared with 622 invasive breast cancers and 107 deaths in those who received breast examinations and mammograms.

“They found smaller cancers, but ultimately the mortality rate was the same” said Suzanne Fletcher, a professor of preventive medicine at Harvard Medical School. She added that cancer screening programmes are built on the assumption that “finding it earlier is finding it better… This study questions that assumption.”[16]

“The bottom line,” said Cornelia Bainesc, co-author of the study, and a professor of public health sciences at the University of Toronto, is that “the
addition of annual mammography screening to physical examination has no impact on breast cancer survival”.

To add to the mammography controversy, a study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association stated that mammography screening for breast cancer offers only minimal gains in life expectancy for women beyond the age of 69, a factor that should be taken into consideration when elderly women are deciding about breast cancer screening. Mammography offers the greatest potential benefit for women between 50 and 69 years old. Beyond that, the benefits are pretty small.[17]

Another problem with mammograms is that interpretation is often wrong. In 1996, the journal Archives of Internal Medicine published results of a test of 108 radiologists throughout the United States. The test used a set of 79 mammograms where the diagnosis had been verified by subsequent biopsies, surgeries or other follow-up. The radiologists missed cancer in 21% of the films, thought 10% of the women with no breast disease had cancer and thought 42% of benign lesions were cancerous.[18]

Another study looked at the records of 8,779 postmenopausal women who had mammograms and found that women on oestrogen had 33% more false positives (mammograms showed an abnormality but none could be found) and 423% more false negatives (mammograms that missed an abnormality that showed up later) than women not using oestrogen.[19]

Further, mammograms are not diagnostic and too frequently lead to unnecessary breast biopsies, which are an expensive, invasive surgical procedure that causes extreme anxiety, some pain and often physical harm to many women who do not have cancer. According to the 1998 edition of the Merck Manual, for every case of breast cancer diagnosed each year, between 5 and 10 women will needlessly undergo a painful breast biopsy.

“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”, says Dr Epstein. Dr Charles B Simone, a former clinical associate in immunology and pharmacology at the National Cancer Institute concurs. “Mammograms increase the risk for developing breast cancer and raise the risk of spreading or metastasizing an existing growth.”

In the face of all this evidence, why does the ACS recommend annual or biannual mammography for all women aged 40 to 45 or even earlier? Do the maths: a $100 mammogram for all 62 million US women over 40, and a $1,000+ biopsy for 1 to 2 million women, is an $8 billion per year industry. However, thereis a superior alternative called advanced thermography, which does not use mechanical pressure or ionizing radiation. It can also detect signs of breast cancer years earlier than either mammography or a physical examination. Mammography cannot detect a tumour until after it has been growing for years and reaches a certain size. Digital infrared thermography is able to detect the possibility of breast cancer much earlier, because it can image the early stages of angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is the formation of a direct supply of blood to cancer cells, which is a necessary step before they can grow into larger tumours.[20]

It is no surprise then that the safer and even more effective diagnostic techniques like digital infrared thermography have been vigorously attacked by the Breast Cancer Awareness organizations.[21]

So all the hullabaloo that comes each October, enlisting women’s support and hard-earned cash does nothing really to 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?

Natural Steps to Cancer Prevention

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 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 towards creating a preventative programme include:

•    Eat 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 and 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.

Instead of allowing major corporations or other vested interests to define the agenda, Breast Cancer Awareness Month can indeed be a powerful time to educate, awaken and empower women to the real causes, preventative measures and truly effective cures for breast cancer.


1.    Epstein Samuel E. The Politics of Cancer. East Ridge Press. USA. p539. 1998.
2.    Batt Sharon. Cancer, Inc. Sierra Magazine. p36. September-October 1999.
3.    Ibid. p38.
4.    Hormone Disruptors: Cancer Effects. p1. 18 Jan 1999.
6.    Westin J and Richter E. Israeli Breast Cancer Anomaly. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 609: 269-79. 1990.
7.    Epstein. op. cit. p468.
8.    Ibid. p511.
9.    US Report Adds to List of Carcinogens. The New York Times. 16 May 2000.
11.    Norris JD et al. Peptide antagonists of the human estrogen receptor. Science 285 (5428): 744-6. 30 July 1999.
12.    Gofman John. Radiation for Medical Procedures in the Pathogenesis of Cancer and Ischemic Heart Disease. Committee for Nuclear Responsibility. San Francisco. 1999.
13.    Epstein. op. cit. p538.
14.    Batt Sharon. Keynote address at the Second World Conference on Breast Cancer, Ottawa, Canada. 26-29 July 1999.
15.    Wright CJ and Mueller CB. Screening mammography and public health policy: the need for perspective. Lancet. 346(8966); 29-32. 1 July 1995.
16.    Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 92: 1490-99. 20 Sept 2000.
17.    Journal of the American Medical Association. 282: 2156-63. 8 December 1999.
18.    Burns RB et al. As mammography use increases, are some providers omitting clinical breast examination? Archives of Internal Medicine. 156(7): 741-4. 8 April 1996.
19.    Laya MB et al. Effect of estrogen replacement therapy on the specificity and sensitivity of screening mammography. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 88: 643-9. 15 May 1996.
20.    Alternative Medicine Magazine.
21.    Goldberg Burton. Alternative Medicine Guide to Women’s Health Series 2. Future Medicine Publishing. Tiburon, CA. p91. 1997.


Further Information

Thermography Websites

Educational Resources


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About Sherrill Sellman

Dr Sherrill Sellman ND is an internationally acclaimed  lecturer, educator and author. Her best-selling books Hormone Heresy: What Women MUST Know About Their HormonesWhat Women Must Know to Protect Their Daughters From Breast Cancer and The Promise of  hCG: How to banish fat, resculpt your body and rebalance your metabolism have provided ground-breaking research and solutions for the most pressing health challenges. For almost two decades in Australia, Sherrill has been a powerful voice empowering women and men with truthful information so they can make the most informed decisions possible regarding their health. She can be contacted via her website at

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