AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION

Off Target in the War on Cancer

DEVRA DAVIS POSTED BILL COUZENS LESSCANCER.ORG

By Devra Davis
Sunday, November 4, 2007; Page B01

Washington Post

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/02/AR2007110201648.htlm

We’ve been fighting the war on cancer for almost four decades now, since President Richard M. Nixon officially launched it in 1971. It’s time to admit that our efforts have often targeted the wrong enemies and used the wrong weapons.

Throughout the industrial world, the war on cancer remains focused on commercially fueled efforts to develop drugs and technologies that can find and treat the disease — to the tune of more than $100 billion a year in the United States alone. Meanwhile, the struggle basically ignores most of the things known to cause cancer, such as tobacco, radiation, sunlight, benzene, asbestos, solvents, and some drugs and hormones. Even now, modern cancer-causing agents such as gasoline exhaust, pesticides and other air pollutants are simply deemed the inevitable price of progress.

They’re not. Scientists understand that most cancer is not born but made. Although identical twins start life with amazingly similar genetic material, as adults they do not develop the same cancers. As with most of us, where they live and work and the habits that they develop do more to determine their health than their genes do. Americans in their 20s today carry around in their bodies levels of some chemicals that can impair their ability to produce healthy children — and increase the chances that those children will develop cancer.

Consider the icon of American cancer, the cyclist Lance Armstrong. He’s hardly alone as an inspiring younger survivor. Of the 10 million American cancer survivors who are alive five years after their diagnosis, about one in 10 is younger than 40. Could exposure to radiation and obesity-promoting chemicals help explain why, according to a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the rates of the testicular cancer that Armstrong developed nearly doubled in most industrialized countries in the past three decades? Should we wait to find out?

I’m calling for prudence and prevention, not panic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Working Group have confirmed that American children are being born with dozens of chemicals in their bodies that did not exist just two decades earlier, including toxic flame retardants from fabrics. A new study by Barbara Cohn and other scientists at the Public Health Institute in Berkeley, Calif., finds that girls exposed to elevated levels of the pesticide DDT before age 14 are five times more likely to develop breast cancer when they reach middle age.

Yes, the war has had some important successes: Cancer deaths in the United States are finally dropping, chiefly because of badly belated (and still poorly supported) efforts to curb smoking, reductions in the levels of some pollutants and significant advances in the control of cancers of the breast, colon, prostate and cervix. But new cases of cancer not linked to smoking or aging are on the rise, such as cancer in children and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in people older than 55. And according to the CDC, cancer is the No. 2 cause of death for children and middle-age people, second only to accidents. The longer view is troubling: The National Cancer Institute reports that from 1950 to 2001, the number of cancers of the bone marrow, the bladder and the liver doubled.

Both public health and social justice demand that we focus more on the things that cause cancer. For example, blacks and other minorities still die of many forms of cancer more often than do whites. Could this be tied to the fact that so many African Americans hold blue-collar jobs, which may bring them into contact with carcinogens? Or because poor blacks are more likely to live in polluted neighborhoods, or eat diets higher in cancer-causing fats? We can’t say, and we’re not even trying to find out. The vast cancer-fighting enterprise has decidedly different priorities………

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/02/AR2007110201648.html

This is an excellent article Devra Davis, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, directs the Center for Environmental Oncology. Her most recent book is “The Secret History of the War on Cancer.”
Please find the Washington Post Link Below.

Posted by Bill Couzens, Founder Next Generation Choices Foundation www.lesscancer.org