Sunday, May 9, 2010

Confusing reports on cancer causes

It was one of those reports that made you want to crawl under the covers.

On Thursday, The President's Cancer Panel released a report saying the number of cancer cases caused by environmental exposures has been "grossly underestimated." The panel advising the president said that Americans are facing "grievous harm" from chemicals in the air, food and water that have largely gone unregulated and ignored.

The report noted unexplained rising rates of some cancers in children, and it referred to recent studies that have found industrial chemicals in umbilical-cord blood, which supplies nutrients to fetuses. "To a disturbing extent, babies are born 'pre-polluted,' " the panel wrote.

It suggested filtering tap water and storing water in stainless steel or glass to avoid exposure to BPA and other plastics and also avoid microwaving in plastic; buying produce grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers; buying meat free of antibiotics and added hormones and avoiding processed or well-done meat.

Some of this we already knew. Some of it rules out most of what is in the supermarket. And some goes against what doctors have told me. I'm supposed to have well-done meat, not avoid it.

The next day, the American Cancer Society criticized the government panel for overstating its case, writing online that the report was unbalanced "by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer" and had presented an unproven theory, that environmentally cased cases are grossly underestimated, as if it were a fact.

The author of the statement, Dr. Michael Thun, continued that there are much larger causes of cancer, such as smoking, poor nutrition, obesity and lack of exercise, although he agreed with the panel's concerns about people's exposure to so many chemicals.

But, but, but...

Someone like me had none of the risk factors, except, of course, a lifetime of exposure to a range of chemicals. When I asked my local hematologist upon diagnosis how I even got leukemia, he said, frankly, that if I had gotten massive exposure at a place like Love Canal, I could attribute it to environmental factors, but, otherwise, they just don't know.

No sense of course in looking back. But when these reports come out, you have to wonder. And then you wonder if you exposed yourself and kids, how you can stop doing it. Within reason, you can pick and choose and do what's possible. You could get everything organic (for a higher price). It's easier in summer, with the availability of local produce. Still, some things are hard to give up.

You could drive yourself crazy. Or you could do what my father, who lived to a nice old age, preached, "Everything in moderation."


PJ said...

The only thing I've changed is I don't pump my own gas. There are benzene fumes in it and the biggest exposure is at the gas station. This probably does nothing, but I can't face all those other restrictions, so it's my one little effort.

If you want to read an interesting novel on environmental exposures, Lionel Shriver's new book "So Much for That," is about a woman who develops mesothelioma, possibly from her husband's on-the-job exposure to asbestos.

Nelle said...

My son's hemotologist/oncologist was a brilliant man. He told me that factors (possibly environmental and possible hereditary predisposition) cause the DNA to break or become damaged. Sometimes it appears rearranged and that is what happens in cancer cels. My son sprayed a can of bug spray in a garage and closed the door several months before his leukemia developed. I no longer had the can but his dr. often wondered if benezene was one of the chemicals. With me having had a lymphoma, he was also probably genetically predisposed. One of the hardest things about having cancer is that you will never know with certainty what caused it. I agree with your father.

Anne O. said...

Hello my dear! These reports do not really contradict. That environmental exposures have been grossly underestimated does not conflict with the idea that smoking etc. cause more cancer.

It's very important though that the government is acknowledging the damage done by industrial chemicals which are implicated now in Parkinson's Disease, infertility, respiratory diseases, allergies, neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer diseases, etc. as well as cancer. And it is not just human beings that are affected by our actions. It's the whole earth.