Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 8, 2004
Turn the spotlight on prevention
Only five per cent of research $$$ goes to head off dreaded cancer
By SUZANNE ELSTON
Consider the slogan, "Cancer can be beaten." For decades, these four words have driven a huge multi-billion dollar anti-cancer machine. Corporations, drug companies, government agencies and non-governmental organizations have rallied around the dream of defeating cancer. The Terry Fox Run, The Run for the Cure and other fundraising campaigns have at their centre the goal of beating cancer.
But critics say that the very companies that sponsor these events are partially responsible for the dramatic increase in cancer. Noranda, Inco and Falconbridge, all major donors to the Canadian Cancer Society, are also on the list of the top 10 polluting companies releasing known carcinogens into the environment.
What about prevention?In recent years, activists are beginning to question this deal with the devil and are asking why the war on cancer needs to be fought in the first place. Led by cancer survivors and health and environmental activists, fuelled by personal experience, they dare to suggest that cancer can be prevented.
Increasingly, science is on their side. We know that 10 per cent of all cancers can be linked to heredity. The remaining 90 per cent can be attributed to environment and lifestyle factors. But direct environmental triggers such as smoking and exposure to recognized carcinogens like asbestos and ultraviolet radiation only account for about half of these cancers.
Those who fight for cancer prevention believe that the remaining diseases are triggered by a toxic soup of environmental contaminants. For example, while smoking is the most frequent cause of lung cancer, 21 of 22 lung carcinogens recognized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have been detected in workplace settings. And a recent American study showed that a typical middle-aged, non-smoking North American has an average of 53 known carcinogens in his or her body.
According to renowned cancer expert Dr. Anthony Miller, chair of the 1995 Ontario Task Force on the Primary Prevention of Cancer, at least 50 per cent of all cancers can be prevented. In other words, if we applied everything that we already know about prevention we could evade over 80,000 cancers in Canada this year alone and in doing so save the lives of more than 30,000 people.
Instead, cancer rates continue to rise dramatically. By 2010, the Canadian Cancer Society predicts that cancer will overtake heart disease as the most common cause of death in Canada.
Follow the moneyThe problem is money. The cynical opinion is that much of the funding that drives cancer research comes from the very drug companies that are most likely to benefit from ongoing cancer treatment. So while we pour billions of dollars into finding a cure for cancer, less than five per cent of our annual research dollars is spent on prevention.
This spring, three women are hoping to change that. Well-known Canadian writer and activist Liz Armstrong and her niece, Sarah Dobec have teamed up with Loretta Michaud, director of information services for the Workers Health and Safety Centre, to organize the first annual Run, Walk and Roll for Cancer Prevention. The event is scheduled to take place as part of the 30th National Capital Race Weekend to be held in Ottawa, May 28 to 30.
The purpose of the event is to raise funds to educate all Canadians - including our political leaders - to learn about and then take action for cancer prevention. The goal is to have 100 participants, each with $2,000 in sponsorships, for a first year fundraising total of $200,000.
"You don't have to be a marathon runner to participate," said Armstrong, who is training to run her first half-marathon. "The goal is to have as many people as possible participate in what should prove to be a really fun event.
There are numerous partners sponsoring this event, all under the umbrella of Stop Cancer Now. The Women's Healthy Environments Network will issue charitable receipts to all donors. Proceeds will be directed toward the completion of a book in 2005 called Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic, a major cancer prevention conference, and other worthy cancer prevention projects. Stop Cancer Now will also share proceeds with any participants who wish to fund local cancer prevention projects.
Recommended websites:For more on the First Annual Run, Walk & Roll for Cancer Prevention, visit www.whenvironments.ca.
The National Capital Race Weekend's website is located at www.ncm.ca.
The Environmental Working Group has recently published a study of the 167 chemicals found in a test group of adults. Shocking stuff. Go to www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden/.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.