Cancer has been increasing inexorably over the last four decades at the rate of one per cent per year. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has admitted that its goal to reduce cancer mortality by the end of the century by 50 per cent will not be reached. It would appear that the war on cancer is being stalemated.

In normal tissues the rate of cellular reproduction and replacement exactly equals the rate of cell death. So what is this disease in which the body loses control over specific cells that are multiplying in an organ?

It has become obvious that scientists cannot expect to find one cause of this disease. Cancer is known to be induced by a number of things: diet, ionizing radiation, chemicals and hormones which at times can possibly act in synergistic combinations. To find a common basis for cancer induction it is necessary to look beyond the current paradigms of single exogenous causes of tissue disease. As we learn more about genetic control mechanisms and detoxification pathways in the cell itself, as well as the external immune system, it would appear that cancer induction follows damage to the normal cellular-protective mechanisms. Future research will have to delve into the most basic levels of molecular medicine involving disturbance in chemical bonding.

The Chemical Connection

Living creatures have been constantly bombarded with cosmic rays. They are also frequently in contact with toxic chemicals. Despite these continuing assaults cells have generally been able to resist becoming cancerous. Certain animals species, sharks in particular, have apparently developed the most effective mechanisms to prevent cancer. Sharks do not develop cancer even when swimming in tanks of strong carcinogens that would be expected to lead to cancer in fish or sea mammals.

Human beings do not appear to have this ability. A Danish study has shown a 10-fold higher cancer risk in women with significant residues of hexachloride benzene that those with low pesticide levels. Also the NCI has stated that 85 per cent of cancer is due to environmental factors. Could such environmental factors be involved in the statistically higher incidence of cancer in specific areas of British Columbia? A 15 to 20-year latency period is common before the disease becomes evident. Could there be a clue here as to why one in every eight human females can be expected to develop cancer of the breast, and one in every nine males to develop cancer of the prostate?

Only time and further research can answer these questions. It may be that academicians will have to look beyond their statistics and work with organic chemists, biologists, wildlife experts, physicists, clinicians, nutritionists and other qualified people if we are to make a dent in the cancer epidemic. At the moment medical science continues to analyze the evidence for the chemical cause of cancer as if it were being tried in a criminal court.

I would venture to suggest cancer "hearings" should take place similar to those in a civil court, where judgement is made on the balance of probabilities. This was most recently done in Nova Scotia when judicial decision acknowledged the environmental cause of a disease in the case of a therapist who became ill when working in a local hospital. This decision was made despite the fact that environmentally triggered illness does not rate a paragraph in any standard medical textbook!

The prevention of cancer then becomes an individual responsibility, as it does for many other afflictions in modern man. It is absolutely necessary to adopt a healthier lifestyle. To eat organically grown, whole foods, reduce the intake of red meat and trans fatty acids in manufactured foods, drink uncontaminated water, exercise and take an optimal amount of anti-oxidant vitamins.

Dr Sweeting is an orthopedic surgeon in Abbotsford, BC.


By Richard Sweeting

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