This is a story about breast cancer. It is not about a woman who has succumbed to it, nor about a woman who has triumphed over it. It is instead a story about a cold-hearted business decision to make and market a “natural product” which it is claimed contains “nutrients and plant extracts that help prevent breast cancer”. The product’s name is “Breast Protection Formula™”.
The product is recommended for women who:
— Have breast cancer in the family, or
— drink more than one alcoholic beverage daily, or occasionally binge drink, or
— are taking oral contraceptives, or have done so within the past five years, or
— are on HRT (hormone replacement therapy), or
— eat tinned or canned foods, or
— are overweight.
The dosage is one capsule of Breast Protection Formula™ twice a day. This would presumably have to be a “long-term” preventative therapy to be effective. At R238 for a month’s supply (Oct 2012) and with a substantial number of women at risk, the marketers must surely have thought that they were going to make a fortune.
Does it work though?
There is no evidence that the particular combination of nutrients and plant extracts in the particular concentrations contained in this product will prevent breast cancer. When given the opportunity to substantiate the “help prevents cancer” claim made for their product to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the advertisers were unable to do so. They argued that it is sufficient to show that some ingredients of the product used in isolation may have an effect – but even then, to the best of my knowledge and my own research, there is no individual “substance” that has definitively been shown to “prevent” breast cancer from developing in women at risk.
October is designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month internationally and nationally. The 2004 National Cancer Registry statistics show that the risk of developing breast cancer in South African women is 1 in 29 (Asian women 1 in 20; black women 1 in 53; coloured women 1 in 17; white women 1 in 14). The risk for South African men is 1 in 788 (Asian men 1 in 485; black men 1 in 1352; coloured men 1 in 662; white men 1 in 383). Early detection of breast cancer and a therapeutic excision biopsy (“lumpectomy”) can be curative if there has not been any metastatic spread.
To promote a product to “prevent” breast cancer without evidence must surely be considered by the reasonable person – but especially the reasonable woman – to be both irresponsible and reprehensible.
The ASA ruled against the advertising for the product on February 15 2012. Part of the original complaint had included a reference to Appendix F of the Code of Advertising Practice. Appendix F was a list of diseases and conditions – including cancer – to which no reference for products (treatment or advice) could be made in the advertising unless the products had been registered by the Medicines Control Council. At that stage it was generally unknown that the Board of the ASA had taken a decision on February 4 2012 to exclude Appendix F as it then stood, from the Code. The ASA Directorate ruling on Appendix F on February 15 was based on a Final Appeal Committee ruling of February 2 2012 which had determined that Appendix F did not apply to “prevention” of diseases. An appeal was made that because the very definition of a medicine included “preventive medicines” that Appendix F must apply to Breast Protection Formula™. This appeal was subsequently withdrawn. The ruling however remains in force.
The product complained of is still shamelessly being advertised, making the very same claims at:
(accessed October 6 2012)
Note: Solal Technologies (Pty) Ltd has commenced litigation against the ASA itself. The brand “Solal Technologies” is owned and licenced by CAVI Brands. The CEO of Solal Technologies is a director of CAVI Brands, and the CEO of CAVI Brands is the chairperson of the board of Solal Technologies. The first in the list of the “values” espoused by CAVI Brands is: “Acting with integrity and transparency in everything we do.” I would argue that the continued promotion of Breast Protection Formula™ in and of itself, apart from having been ruled against by the ASA, is incompatible with “acting with integrity … in everything we do.”
Disclaimers: 1. I am under threat of litigation by Solal Technologies (Pty) Ltd for alleged “defamation and the publication of injurious falsehoods”. I deny these allegations, and will not be gagged. 2. I am writing in my personal capacity. My views are not necessarily a reflection of the views of my employer, Rhodes University; nor necessarily the views of the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa, of which I am a council member.