What Came First the Chicken or the Cancer?

By Bill Couzens, Founder Less Cancer

The advertising, publicity, and public reaction surrounding the Kentucky Fried Chicken “Buckets for the Cure” campaign to benefit Susan G. Komen For the Cure is immense – even though the two organizations seem like an unlikely match. And while I am eager to see a cure for cancer, I am more interested in seeing cancer stopped at the cause. I am interested in seeing us not only win the battles, but the war. Winning the war translates into not just more cases of cured cancer, but Less Cancer all together – stopping cancer at the root. We need to be taking a new look at the way we work to stop cancer before it even becomes cancer.

Despite Richard Nixon’s efforts in 1971 to launch the War on Cancer, the problem has not been solved and in fact has multiplied. Nearly a lifetime and countless billions later, identifying and treating cancer has become its own economy. While I am grateful that so many researchers are looking for the cure, we are living in a time of unprecedented increases in the number of friends and family battling cancer or dealing with the issues that cancer survivorship brings.

Michale Pollan in his book Food Rules An Eaters Manual (Penguin) says, “If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t. It’s not food if it’s served through the window of your car. It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language.” Think Big Mac, Cheetos or Pringles.

While there is no evidence to say chicken causes cancer – we do know that some fast/processed foods can contribute to illnesses such as obesity. During the last two decades, the percentages of obese adults and children have been steadily increasing and, in turn, increased the risk for health effected outcomes including coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Obesity also increases the risk of cancers of the breast, Endometrium (the lining of the uterus), colon, kidney, and esophagus (NCI).

We live in a time when cancer has become so commonplace that the news of new cases seems almost expected. Everyone I know is involved with a walk, a run, or a ride to support cancer research. We as a culture are working every day to find new ways to fund big dollar cures and cancer treatments. While I applaud those efforts, and would have done anything to see my sister and mother cured, the larger issue is that little if anything is being done in the area of cancer prevention.

Recently at a bank drive-thru window I was offered the opportunity to buy a candy bar with the profits going toward a cancer cure. David Servan-Schreiber, MD, Ph.D, author of Anticancer: A New Way of Life is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and cofounder of the Center for Integrative Medicine. Dr. Servan-Screiber’s book discusses concerns about sugar as a food that feeds cancer. So why are we selling candy bars to fund the cancer cure? It doesn’t make sense. We as a society can’t seem to move away from the “break and fix” model of healthcare.

We are willing to race for a cure, but are not willing to work diligently to eliminate or reduce the exposures that cause it.
The problem isn’t just the fast foods we are consuming in record quantities, but the grocery choices we make in the store when shopping for our families.

Dr. Maryann Donovan, Director the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cancer Institute (CEO-UPCI) says that “consumers do need to become more selective when shopping for all products but especially food. Scientists at the CEO-UPCI have measured contaminants in canned food at levels that can cause biological effects in laboratory studies. There are a number of published studies showing that some ingredients in products that we use in our homes, schools and communities are toxic and some have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory studies. Examples of possible food contaminants can include pesticide residues or bisphenol A. (BPA), a component of the resin that lines some cans and can leach into food.”

Food choice presents an opportunity to make change and begin the process of providing healthy choices for your family, but especially for young children.

It is important to protect children. By making better food choices we can reduce their exposure to a host of unhealthy ingredients and contaminants. It is important to remember that children are not small adults, rather they are a developing version of an adult. Simply put, children are under construction. They are unfinished and their developing systems are quite fragile. We know, for instance, that in children the brain continues to develop into their twenties, and this makes their brains potentially more vulnerable to toxicants. They also breathe much more rapidly, so they take in more toxins through their lungs. For children, depending on the exposure, some of the first body systems to show negative health effects can be their neurological and respiratory systems.

Our society has lost its grip on the problem because of greed and a general malaise and acceptance of cancer as a fact of life. Real progress will only happen when we address issues in behavior and choices. For example, there are foods that are not only not nutritious, but in some cases toxic. So when do we get the back bone to push back, make the tough choices, and do what is right – and not only what is profitable?

According to a Scientific American article (2-17-2010), about 133 million Americans have one or more so-called chronic conditions, which can include obesity and diabetes. According to a House bill introduced in July 2009 and currently in committee, there is a need to increase overall federal funding for healthcare. Wayne Giles, director of the CDC’s Division of Adult and Community Health, notes that some 75 percent of U.S. health care spending goes toward “treating patients with chronic disease.” As the authors of the bill hasten to point out, “The vast majority of these diseases are preventable.” These conditions also account for about 70 percent of deaths in the U.S.

It’s going to take more than branding a bucket of chicken with a pink ribbon to beat cancer. We’re in a war, and we need to do more than dress up the potential enemy.