7 April 2007

Half the cases of breast cancer now!

By Jacqui McCarney

In December a friend of mine died of breast cancer just before her 52nd birthday. Death at a relatively young age is tragic but she was not the first female friend to get cancer, in fact the seventh in about seven years - five have died. This has stopped feeling like a tragedy to me and more like an epidemic.

There isn't a person in the UK today who has not been affected by cancer - we pour endless amounts of money into cancer research and rightly demand the best treatments for our loved ones. Yet, despite the billions spent and years of research we are failing to win the battle against cancer.

All cancers are increasing at a terrifying rate with breast cancer outstripping all other cancers. Government statistics, published in September 2006, show breast cancer has increased by a staggering 80% in the last thirty years. Mastectomy rates have jumped 44% in fifteen years (unpublished Government data) with the biggest upward trend in women in the 15 to 44 age bracket, up by forty one percent. In fact; breast cancer is the most common cause of death in women in the 35-54 age brackets.

We are told that "early detection is the best prevention" and that we should have regular mammograms as a "preventive measure". Detection and mammograms do not prevent cancer; prevention must be about eliminating the causes of a disease before it can affect people.

The Government, mainstream cancer organisations advise us that cancer is a disease of ageing, lifestyle factors (obesity, drinking, and diet) and genetics. In fact research shows that these factors account for less than 50% of cases with genetic components a mere 5%.

No More Breast Cancer points to the substantial scientific evidence, gathered over seven decades, that point to the link between man made chemicals in the environment and cancer. Many of these chemicals disrupt the function of the endocrine (hormone) system and are thought to have particular significance for hormone related cancers such as breast cancer. As far back as 1980, Danish scientists found that 27 patients who died of cancer had significantly higher levels of pesticides in their fat tissue in comparison to 44 people who died from other causes.

Don't bring your sick friend grapes – at least not unless they are organic. Our food is a major source of exposure to synthetic chemicals – many of which are bio-accumulative (they build up in the body), carcinogenic and hormone disrupters, and grapes are among the ten worst foods for pesticide residue. Pesticide Action Network looked at all the available data, including Government sources, and came up with a list which included, grapes, flour, potatoes, bread, apples, pears, strawberries, green beans, tomatoes and cucumbers as among the worst offenders – in fact all the foods we are encouraged to eat lots of to prevent cancer (http://www.pan-uk.org/). Over 31,000 tonnes of pesticides were applied to agricultural land in 2004 and despite the growth of organic industry our dependence on chemicals is growing. As well as food, be aware that toxic chemicals are also used in household cleaning agents, cosmetics, shampoos, toothpaste and plastics.

So why are environmental factors in cancer ignored by Government, industry and mainstream cancer charities? Well, it is probably not always for cynical reasons – there is a traditional preoccupation with management of the disease and drug and gene therapies. Nevertheless, the 'cancer industry' is worth billions – it is ever expanding incorporating services, products, materials and technologies. According to Breast Cancer UK "A thriving enterprise with a guaranteed future 'cancer' is a growth industry in every sense of the word. It would be extremely unlikely that this particular industry would champion a case which has the potential to undermine its very existence".

Instead, the huge financial burden falls on our National Health Service and the UK tax payer. The cost of managing one cancer patient was approximately £20,000 in 2004 and the rapid increase in new drugs is set to continue costs rocketing.

To protect ourselves and our families, eat as much organic foods as possible, especially those foods that are most susceptible to pesticide residue; make sure that household and personal toiletries are chemical free eco brands, and reduce use of plastics.

Also reduce consumption of imported foods from countries with less strict bans on chemical use than the UK – citrus fruit in some countries are regularly sprayed with DDT. Contact MP/MEPs asking them to support and strengthen legislation calling for a safety assessment for all chemicals being released into the environment such as Reach, and ask them to sign the 'Paris Declaration' to help regulate toxic chemicals.