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Soaring cancer rates blamed on chemicals

Soaring cancer rates blamed on chemicals
Source: Pentiction Herald

By The Canadian Press OTTAWA -- Man-made chemicals in air, water, food and the workplace are largely to blame for a devastating cancer epidemic which will strike 41 per cent of Canadian males and 38 per cent of females, says a study released Wednesday

Genetics and lifestyle factors such as smoking and diet can't explain the soaring cancer rates of recent decades, says the report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

From 1970 to 1998, the incidence of the dreaded disease increased by 35 per cent for men and 27 per cent for women after the effects of population aging have been discounted, say authors Lissa Donner and Robert Chernomas

When lung cancers are removed from the statistics, the rates still increased by 23.9 per cent for males and 17.1 per cent for females over the period

The toll is more dramatic when considered over a longer time: In 1921, cancer killed 6.6 per cent of males and 8.6 per cent of females, but now the death rate has risen to 27.4 per cent for men and 23.1 per cent for women, says the report. There has been a great deal of controversy about the role of environmental contaminants in cancer, and mainstream medical organizations have tended to downplay their importance. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that only five per cent of cancers can be directly linked to contaminants in the environment, which would represent about 6,400 cases a year in Canada. But dissidents, such as U.S. scientist Samuel Epstein, author of several books on cancer, say 80 to 90 per cent of human cancer is determined environmentally

Authors Donner and Chernomas say the medical profession is fixated on screening, diagnosis and damage control rather than prevention

"Mainstream medicine places the blame for cancer on lifestyle and genetics -- and emphasizes research into changes at the individual level. It identifies symptoms and treats them, while largely ignoring the root causes of disease

"We believe that successful cancer prevention requires a very different approach." They note that more than 18 million kilograms of known carcinogens were released into the Canadian environment in 2001, according to the federal government's National Pollutant Release Inventory

Donner conceded in an interview that many carcinogenic chemicals are useful and would be hard to replace. For example, chlorine is vital in water treatment, but can interact with organic materials to form carcinogenic chemicals known as trihalomethanes

But she rejects the view that rising cancer rates are an inescapable fact of life in the modern era

"That kind of resigned attitude is not going to create a healthy society," she said in an interview

"We need a strategy, to pick and choose and figure out where to go next."