Cancer has been around as long as mankind, but only in the second half of the 20th century did the number of cancer cases explode. In just the past ten years or so, we have seen estimates go from one in four to about one in every two people in this country will get cancer.
Specifically, current statistics show that about 41 percent, or nearly half, of all Americans will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime, and about 21 percent, one fifth, of the nation’s population will die from it according to the National Cancer Institute’s SEER Cancer Statistics Review. In 2009 alone, over 1.5 million new cases were diagnosed and while the cancer mortality rate has recently declined due to early detection and more sophisticated cancer treatments, by all estimations, the overall incidence of cancer will steadily increase. Cancer is now our nation’s second largest killer, next to heart disease, and some indicators are pointing toward cancer as soon being America’s number one chronic disease.
Over the past two decades, the rates of some cancers rose significantly, including:
So why is it that our cancer rate is so high, especially in a society that is more health conscious than ever before? Because never before in our history have we been exposed to so many chemicals or combinations of chemicals. They are literally everywhere. We breathe, drink, and eat chemicals each and every day. And the worst part is that they are here to stay. Agriculture alone uses over 800 million pounds of chemicals in the form of pesticides and herbicides annually which contaminates the soil for years and ends up in our bodies. These chemicals also drain into rivers, lakes and ground aquifers when it rains.
Government agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are responsible for monitoring and determining if the chemicals in our air, water and foods are safe for consumption and at what levels these chemicals become unsafe.
For example, to estimate the health risk to humans from exposure to pesticides, the EPA evaluates tests done on experimental animals, and on plant, human or animal cells growing in the laboratory and enters this information into a computer program specially developed to estimate health risks called the “Dietary Exposure Evaluation Model.” The EPA establishes a reference dose (RfD) for each pesticide it approves for use. The RfD is the amount of a chemical that, if ingested over a lifetime, is not expected to cause any adverse health effects in any population subgroup.
CHEMICALS COMBINED WITH CHEMICALS, A DEADLY RECIPEWhile these tests may or may not be accurate when it comes to the particular chemical being tested, there is no way of determining the health effects of that specific chemical when combined with the many other chemicals we take into our bodies daily.
For example, what are the health effects of a long-term exposure to atrazine, one of the most widely used herbicides/pesticides in the world, and calcium propionate, sodium nitrate, and disodium EDTA, three common food preservatives? Add the chemicals found in common household items such as cleaners, shampoos, deodorants, and even eye make-up and the example might be a combination of organophosphates, another widely used pesticide, the food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is found in a huge variety of foods, and nitrobenzene, found in furniture and floor polishes and has already been linked to cancer and birth defects.
What are the effects to our health after 60, 50, 40, or even just 30 years of continuous ingestion and exposure of these combinations of chemicals and the many others just like them? The truth is that it is impossible for scientists to test the safety of the tens of thousands of different chemical combinations our bodies are exposed to in the world we live in today.
EXPOSING THE TRUTH ABOUT TOXINSWith a skyrocketing cancer rate, to say that the carcinogens and other toxins in the food, water, and air that we ingest and breathe everyday poses no risk of cancer simply flies in the face of common sense and finally the truth has been formally exposed.
In a landmark report issued in May, 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel asserts that public health officials have “grossly underestimated” the likelihood that environmental contaminants trigger a large proportion of the cancers diagnosed in Americans annually. All total, we are exposed to approximately 80,000 chemicals in which roughly 20,000 of these chemicals are known cancer-causing agents and are largely unregulated. Every chemical and toxin in your body causes free radical damage and one of the main causes of cancer is excessive free radical damage to healthy cells causing a break-down of the immune system and injury to your DNA, resulting in some cells mutating into cancerous cells. With an overload of toxins and a malfunctioning immune system, the body is not capable of destroying the excessive number of cancerous cells that develop and sooner or later, some will survive and begin to multiply and the result is cancer.
The panel’s 240-page report is the first to place emphasis on environmental factors as being a serious cancer risk stating, “The American people – even before they are born – are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures” and advised President Obama “to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”
For about the last three decades, federal agencies estimated that environmental pollutants caused only about 2 percent of all cancers and that occupational exposures may cause 4 percent. The panel called these estimates “woefully out of date” and criticized federal regulators for using them to set existing environmental standards and regulations and went on to blast the chemical industry for using them “to justify its claims that specific products pose little or no cancer risk.”
While environmental health scientists applauded the panel’s report, saying it embraces everything that they have been saying for years, the report was not so well received by the American Cancer Society (ACS). Taking issue with the part about how environmentally induced cancers are “grossly underestimated”, Dr. Michael J. Thun, the society’s vice president emeritus of Epidemiology & Surveillance Research states, “Unfortunately, the perspective of the report is unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer.” According to Thun, the report does not give adequate attention to “the major known causes of cancer,” including tobacco, obesity, sunlight and alcohol.
However Richard Clapp, a professor of environmental health at Boston University’s School of Public Health and one of the nation’s leading cancer epidemiologists, is in agreement with the panel’s findings. “Environmental and occupational exposures contribute to tens of thousands of cancer cases a year,” Clapp said. “If we had any calamity that produced tens of thousands of deaths or serious diseases, that is a national emergency in my view. Some types of cancers are increasing rapidly including thyroid, kidney and liver cancers. Others, including lung and breast cancer, have declined, largely due to declines in tobacco use and hormone replacement therapy.”
Previous reports by the President’s Cancer Panel have focused largely on treatment and more well-known causes of cancer such as diet or smoking but, “with the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures,” says the panel.
Environmental health scientists said they hope the report raises not just the President’s awareness of environmental threats, but the public’s, since most people are unaware of the dangers. The Panel’s Report is available at .