A friend from high school lost her 9 year old daughter to cancer on Saturday. This post is dedicated to Sophie June.
According to the American Cancer Society “the incidence of childhood cancers has been rising slightly for the past decade.” But that’s o.k. Really. They go on to say “because of treatment advances, more than 80 % of children with cancer now survive more than 5 years.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That is supposed to be comforting?
First off, RATES ARE RISING PEOPLE! Why?? Second, who hasn’t seen the emotional, bodily and financial toll that chemo, radiation and disfiguring surgery can cause, not to mention the many unknown consequences later in life. I’m so glad treatments are improving and saving lives. So grateful there are scientists who dedicate their careers to battling this beast. I’m so glad there are brave families who participate in cancer treatment research. But why the relative silence surrounding prevention? Do an internet search of childhood cancer causes and I found NONE speaking about funding research surrounding prevention. The American Cancer society website speaks to cancer being caused by changes in DNA, and “there is no way to prevent childhood cancers.” Wow, pretty definitive statement. I say we know a lot more about potential causes than that. Why have we all sipped the kool-aid?
Environmental carcinogens are responsible for a far greater number of cancers than previously believed according to the 2010 report of a presidential advisory panel (and we do know children are much more susceptible to environmental toxins-take lead for example). The President’s Cancer Panel was established by the National Cancer Act of 1971. An annual report is submitted to the president describing the status of the “war on cancer” and identifying both progress and barriers to continued advances.
“For the past 30 years … there has been systematic effort to minimize the importance of environmental factors in carcinogenesis,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
“There has been disproportionate emphasis on lifestyle factors and insufficient attention paid to discovering and controlling environmental exposures,” he said. “This report marks a sea change.” Environmental carcinogens are responsible for a far greater number of cancers than previously believed — a fact that suggests eradicating these environmental threats should be a priority for President Obama — according to the report of a presidential advisory panel.
I would have to disagree to some extent with Dr. Landrigan. With the exception of sun exposure and smoking, I don’t think there has been near enough emphasis on lifestyle factors either. Associations have been found between consumption of certain foods and cancer (such as grilled meats and nitrates found in lunch meat and hot dogs, and many other unnecessary food additives). There is also extensive evidence that what we eat has the potential to prevent cancer (garlic, onions, berries, cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, and green tea to name a few).
I think there are myriad reasons for this travesty. First, medicine and research have long been focused on treating diseases. It is a mindset as well as much more exciting and lucrative to pioneer new treatments. Again, I am incredibly grateful for this research. I only wish it wasn’t essentially the only research. Second, a lot of people have a lot of money to lose, if environmental factors and food additives are definitively linked to cancer, especially childhood cancers. In 2010 The New York Times reported David Koch, President of Koch Industries, was forced to step down from his position on the National Cancer Institute Advisory Board when it was revealed his company was lobbying against designating formaldehyde as a known carcinogen. He sat on the panel while also owning a company with a “clear interest in promoting formaldehyde.” Huge conflict of interest on a panel designated to influence public policy. How often does this type of conflict of interest occur? I am betting a lot more often than we know.
When environmental toxins are studied, they are isolated. They look at how one chemical affects lab animals. That is the way good research can conclude this thing causes that thing. But then the research is released and the threat often seems minor. You may have to be exposed to the chemical at such high amounts, it seems a ridiculous concern. The problem is, people don’t live in these isolated conditions. We are exposed to multiple toxins in varying levels daily. What is the additive affect of these toxins? Or worse the potential synergistic affects? When 1 +1= more than 2. Researchers need to be asking more of these questions. We need to be demanding it. The rate of childhood cancer should not be rising. My prayer is that one day no parent will hear the words “it’s cancer.”