Cancer prevention largely forgotten in the race for a

Monday, July 26 2010

Finding a cure for cancer is the dream of so many researchers, health practitioners and patients alike – and much time, energy and money has been channeled toward this noble goal. However, what is often lost in the desperate search for the cancer ‘cure’ is the extensive body of scientific evidence that addresses cancer prevention.

In their new book, "Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic" (New Society, 2007) Liz Armstrong, Guy Dauncey and Anne Wordsworth examine the complex relationship between the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, the products we use, and the health and well-being of our bodies, and of our planet.

They outline what too many of us already know first-hand: that cancer has reached epidemic proportions. Annual cancer statistics currently indicate that nearly half of all North American men and close to 40 per cent of women will be diagnosed with a malignant cancer at some point in their lives, and that cancer is now – or soon will be – the number one cause of death in Canada.

But the authors also provide hope – and concrete solutions that we can all undertake --to put us on the path to stopping the cancer epidemic.

"Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic" assesses the vast body of scientific literature tracking carcinogens in our water, air, soil and food, as well as our homes and workplaces, concluding that most cancers are preventable. We already know the links between smoking and lung cancer, or over-exposure to the sun and skin cancer, but the authors reveal that there are scores of other preventable risks for numerous cancers that do not involve ‘lifestyle factors.’

We can look to evidence from cancers in animals and fish, for example, which do not smoke, drink or eat junk food. Between 1975 and 1995 there was a six-fold increase in cancer in dogs examined at veterinary teaching schools in North America; and Scottish terriers whose owners used herbicides on their lawns were found to be four to seven times more likely to have bladder cancer than dogs whose owners did not. Likewise, during the 1990s, the Beluga whales in the polluted St. Lawrence Seaway were dying of cancer at the same rate as humans – one in four – while those which swam in the open Atlantic were not.

The authors reject the standard approach that demands ‘proof positive’ of causal links between toxic substances and cancer -- a nearly impossible scientific task to achieve in a world contaminated with tens of thousands of man-made chemicals and radioactivity. Instead, the authors advocate the ‘precautionary principle’ espoused by numerous medical, scientific and government bodies.

"The precautionary principle states that when an activity raises the threat of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not yet fully established scientifically," says author Guy Dauncey.

"Employing the precautionary principle from the 1960s on saved countless lives in the case of smoking, where human health studies had, for decades, demonstrated the connection between cigarette use and lung cancer. But, until 1996, there was no ‘proof positive’ of the causal link. Waiting for such proof would have been disastrous," says Dauncey, adding that cancer deaths from asbestos, ionizing radiation, diesel smoke and many other toxic substances have soared because of failure to take precautionary action.

With the precautionary principle in hand, the authors describe 101 step-by-step solutions that can guide us toward healthier lives, lessening our toxic burden, and reducing the risks for cancer – through individual, governmental and community action.

Solutions in the book include details on how to maintain ‘Green Schools,’ ‘Clean your home safely,’ ‘Create a healthy pregnancy’ or ‘Treat your garden with TLC, not 2,4-D.’ There are also helpful sections on how to ‘Minimize your exposure to radiation,’ and why we need to ‘Ban depleted uranium’ and ‘Ban asbestos.’

But the solutions contained within are not only about what toxic substances to avoid, but also contains helpful sections on how to change public policy, such as ‘Become an activist’ and ‘Eliminate all hazardous chemicals by 2020’; and the authors also provide helpful ideas on how to improve the health of the planet directly, in sections such as ‘Tackle a local challenge.’ Finally, "Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic" contains a handy guide of ‘Cancer causing agents’ as identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer – something no household should be without.

"Until recently it was widely believed that cancer was caused mostly by our lifestyle and dietary choices, with a little bit of hereditary bad luck thrown in," says Dauncey.

"Yes, ‘lifestyle factors’ play an important role," he adds, "but if you examine the burden of toxicity in the lives of Canadians, it becomes clear that there are many other factors contributing to Canada’s persistently high cancer rates, which we can do something about."

"Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic" sends a wake-up call to regulatory agencies to take steps to control our exposure to carcinogens, and also provides pragmatic solutions for individuals for what we can do in the meantime to keep ourselves, and our families, healthy.

Brief biographies of the authors:

To purchase a copy of "Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic," visit:

To request a review copy of "Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic" or to book a media interview with the authors, please contact:

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