DEVRA DAVIS SPEAKS-ALASKA

UPCI, DAVIS, DEVRA LEE DAVIS, CEO, CENTER, HERBERMAN, CELL, CELL PHONES, CELL TOWERS, COUZENS, BILL COUZENS, LESSCANCER,PITTSBURGH, HILLMAN CANCER, SMOKING, DNA, CANCER, LUNG CANCER,INDUSTRIAL POLLUTANTS, CLIMATE CHANGE

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People can trim cancer risks, expert says
ENVIRONMENT: Choosing where, how you live can make a difference, she says.
By GEORGE BRYSON
gbryson@adn.com
Published: September 12th, 2008 01:11 AM
Last Modified: September 12th, 2008 11:54 AM
Alaska causes cancer. So do California, Kansas and New Jersey. So says University of Pittsburgh epidemiologist and environmental cancer expert Devra Davis, who spoke at UAA Thursday evening (and will deliver a free public lecture at noon today at the Providence Cancer Center).

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Alaska, however, may have special problems. Hold that thought for a moment.

Studies today show that only about one in 10 cases of breast cancer is caused through inherited traits from parents, Davis says, citing research from the National Cancer Institute. All the rest are a result of where and how you live.

In one sense, that’s good news, says Davis, who serves as director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

“You can’t pick your parents and you can’t go back and change what you ate three years ago, but you can control the things in your environment.”

Researchers have long known that contact with certain pollutants, including tobacco, benzene and asbestos — the big three carcinogens — can lead to forms of cancer. In her new book, “The Secret History of the War on Cancer,” Davis condemns the U.S. medical establishment for either ignoring or suppressing for years the evidence that environmental pollutants can lead to cancer.

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Anti-smoking campaigns in the United States in the 1980s finally began to reduce the lung cancer death rate among men in the 1990s, while the lung cancer death rate among women may have finally peaked.

But other cancers (defined as the unrestrained proliferation of malignant cells due to changes in DNA) appear to be taking their place, Davis says, citing new research at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

“There are continuing increases in cancer not related to smoking and not related to improved diagnosis,” she says. “Particularly we’re seeing an increase in cancer in children.”

It’s a mystery what causes some of these environmental cancers. Toxic chemicals that turn up in household products like plastic toys, cosmetics and cleaning products are definitely suspect. So are commonplace personal belongings.

Like cell phones.

In the United States, the jury is still out on whether cell phone use can increase the risk of brain cancer, Davis says. A hearing on the subject before a congressional committee is scheduled next week.

Other cancer risks might arise in the place where you choose to live, Davis says.

Like the Alaska Native hunting and fishing families who live near a Cold War-era Air Force site on St. Lawrence Island who six years ago were found to have nearly 10 times the concentration of toxic PCBs in their blood as average Americans.

Some industrial pollutants can also reach Alaska the old-fashioned way, Davis says. People simply dumped them here.

“There are now more than 700 former defense sites that contain massive quantities of PCBs and chlorinated pesticides and solvents,” Davis says.

At the same time, cancer among Alaska Natives is rising, according to a recent report by the state Division of Epidemiology. And birth defects among Alaska Natives are now three times the national average.

Industrial pollutants also arrive in Alaska via ocean currents and weather patterns that rain down on arctic Alaska, allowing cancer-causing toxins to enter the food chain. The Stockholm Convention recently recognized the special vulnerability of Arctic people, Davis says.

“It was first recorded in the breast milk of the Inuit women of Canada and has later been found throughout marine mammals — and now in studies that been done in some Alaska Native’s blood as well.”

State epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said Thursday that Davis is correct in asserting that only about 10 percent of cancers are inherited from parents — and up to 90 percent of cancers derive from some environmental cause.