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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What's up with all the cancer?


My work in Northern BC is a consulting contract where we're visiting 17 communities and meeting with people to talk about cancer care (public meetings and focus groups with people who have experienced cancer). Here's the site we set up for the project.

It's intense. What do you say to a woman who introduces herself by saying, "In the past few years 9 people in my family have had cancer - 5 have died including my husband and one of my children." Or, "I had both breasts removed on February 7th - I'm happy to be here, but don't touch me, I hurt everywhere..."

Our work will lead to some improvement in cancer care in this huge rural and northern area (larger than a good part of Europe, with 300,000 people total). It's also about 20% First Nations folks.

My question though, is about why is there so much cancer? The chances of a man in Canada getting cancer have gone from about 1 in 10 to about 1 in 2 since I was born... I'm more or less pissed off by the 'eat your veggies and don't smoke and it will all be good' preaching. It might be good advice, but most cancers seem to be caused by other factors... There's lots of evidence that it's from what we breathe, eat, drink, wear, surround ourselves with and expose ourselves to where we work. Why isn't anyone screaming about that? Is this about the economy and corporate/government interests ruling the day? Don't they get cancer too?

I'm rambling.

I'm posting one photo here from Tlell, on Haida Gwaii (AKA the Queen Charlotte Islands) - a magical place in the Pacific Ocean, along my consultation trail.


Comments:
Yeah, what IS up with all the cancer?!

I have to say, though, that I appreciate it when a celebrity attaches themselves to the cause. Finally, using their influence and popularity for something other than People Magazine! I know that is kind of a random comment, but with all the attention being paid to the passing of Dana Reeves (widow of Superman's Christopher Reeves) it seems like a valid thought!
 
Gary, first - the photo. Beautiful. I see pictures of places like that and long to be there. I love all parts of this exquisitely beautiful jewel of a planet on which we live and are busily destroying. I can work up a frothing at the mouth rant about that.

Cancer. Valid questions. My family maintains genealogical records of my maternal grandfather's line back to the 1300s, and shorter records of other family lines. Our family medical history goes back to the 1800s (spotty in places, ofcourse)but even back then physicians recognized cancer quite well. Pre-late 1800s most of that family line were long-lived and only 2 reports of cancer. My grandfather, born in late 1800s, had 11 siblings, all lived to 80+ years, 1 cancer, rest died of heart trouble. My grandparents had 9 offspring.
My mother is 96 years old and although in failing health, keeps hanging in there. Her living siblings are 89 and 84 and both are hale, hearty and very active. (My 89 year old uncle still hand cultivates a vegetable garden of several acres and cuts wood for his fireplace). Another sibling recently died at age 92 of heart attack but was fairly active. On his daily walks he said he was having a problem running fast enough to elude oncoming traffic when crossing streets.
The remianing five siblings died of cancer at ages 30+ through 82. Three were smokers, only one partook of alcohol. All were reared to adulthood in a rural environment and ate farm reared beef and pork and organically grown vegetables and fruits. In adulthood 1 lived in urban California, 1 in urban Texas Gulf Coast, 1 in rural central Texas, 1 in rural New Mexico, and 1 in rural Texas Gulf coast- all very different environments.Several ate farm grown produce, chickens, eggs, and meats, but supplemented with comercial foods.1 ate anything that didn't eat him first, 2 were very conscious of good nutrition and proper diet, the others dined on the usual American foods.
One died of lung cancer, 1 of breat cancer, 2 of liver and pancreatic cancer, and one of esophogeal cancer. Of their wives who shared their adult environments, 1 died of gastric cancer and one of cervical cancer. Of their offspring, 1 died of lung cancer, 5 survive cancers. We are in fear of new diagnoses amongst the rest of us. The odds do not look good.
Of the deceased, only one led a sedentary life; the rest were extremely active.The 82 year old breast cancer victim made an 8 mile hike for her morning walk; she had been doing 13 miles but her companion couldn't do it anymore so they cut it to "only 8!!" Several times a year this aunt would hike the Grand Canyon, down to the bottom, camp overnight, then hike back up the next morning. (You mall walkers, google the Grand Canyon and get a glimmering of what this old lady did).At age 80 she had one of her children drive her and a gaggle of great-grandchildren 50 miles into the mountains. She and the horde of children hiked and camped the 50 miles back home - for funsies!
You can see she was extraordinarily healthy and fit, yet cancer killed her. And oh yes, she had her mammograms every year without fail and the cancer wasn't detected until it had already metastasized.

This just through my mother's generation and my generation. I fear for our offspring. There has become a family joke, "With our longevity genes we should see a ripe old age - if cancer doesn't get us." Cancer in my mother's generation killed in their mature years, with the exception of one uncle who died in his 30s.

My generation of cousins have been struck at ages 30s to late 50s. I wonder if our children's generation will be struck even younger.

This is quite a heavy percentage of cancers in one family. If anyone can find a common denominator other than shared genes, I'd like to hear it. But I don't think genetics accounts for all of it. Perhaps the propensity for developing cancer. My father's family is also long lived, with his father and several of my father's siblings living into their 90s. No family history of cancer at all, until my generation of paternal cousins. Now it's cropping up on that side of the family, too.
And yes, Gary, the rich get cancer too. I've nursed a number of wealthy cancer patients and you see many at M.D. Anderson Cancer Institute in Houston.
You are correct, Gary. There is SOMETHING causing an increase in cancer overall, and claiming poor disagnoses in the past is malarky.
 
I think the case for not smoking is valid, gary - after all that would tie in with your other factors: what we breathe. Recently, I heard an article which suggested the beneficial anti-oxident factor in fresh veg & friut was overplayed; it helps but not as much as we're led to believe.

I suppose the other consideration is all those other diseases and conditions which are fatal but have been brought largely under control by modern medicine. Cancer, heart disease and senile conditions stand out more in a thinned out field of possibilities.

I was asking the missus (nurse)this a while ago: you never hear of anyone dying of ''old age'' these days. probably a result of better diagnosis, the expectation of/and greater openness between doctor and patient, and the increasing perception that we should live forever - providing we take the right medicine.

also death and cancer are taboo - people don't want to discuss them unless they really have to. I also heard that this is a particularly western attitude.

great photo, gary - kind of allegory for life (and death), if you don't mind my attempt at interpretation: the twilight, the bare tree sentinel, the path seemingly ending in a halcyon sea...
 
Thanks so much for sharing your family story so wonderfully Worried American. Your line certainly explains some of your humour, feistiness and positive, loving attitude. The cancer thread is scary too.

Ian, I think longevity and diagnosis does account for some numbers (we live longer and can develop more illnesses). That said, the rates of cancer in Canada are on such a steep curve, in all age demorgraphics, that those things just don't explain it all.

There are more than 10,000 carcinogenic chemicals that are in everyday use (in small quantities or carefully controlled). It's got to add up to something.

Another small example: using the birth control pill young and for more than 7 years increases a woman's risk of breast cancer significantly. I've asked women I know if they knew that or if it was made clear to them. They say no.

I sound like an advocate for something don't I! Just not quite sure what yet.
 
My sons' dad died of prostate cancer 18 years ago. He was 54. At that time, it was unusual for men that age to have it. Most were older and outlived the cancer. Not anymore. Get those checkups, guys.

My daughter has cancer. My birth mother and my adoptive dad both died from cancer.

I'm sure there's much more these days.
 
Not sure about elsewhere in the world, but in the US, the main chemical in use for water treatment is sodium dichlorite. Comes in 55-gal. drums, shipped out as 95% solution; roughly 70-80% solution upon entering the system, due to evaporation. The chemical degenerates to a group of compounds known as TGMs while in the system, known to be carcinogenic since the early 70's, whether you drink it, bathe in it, or wash dishes in it. Just not much of a demand to find a better solution (so to speak).
It strikes me as odd that a place so off the beaten path would have such a high incidence of cancer. Any mining interests in the area?
 
PT - yes, mining and even a larger presence of pulp mills - lots of sulphury egg smell in some towns. There is a higher rate of smoking in the area too.

The steep increase in cancers, however, are across the country (US too), so there are other pieces to this puzzle. The water bit is interesting.
 
Canada, USA and Australia have very high rates of Cancer and I thought the increase was around 50% over the past 30 years . I think about 30% is fully treatable but finding out about the causes for the increases is like searching for needles in haystacks !! The incidence is much less in developing countries, whose much bigger threats is diseases mainly through polluted drinking water. The increases incidence of cancers emerge as those countries become more “developed”. Liver , Bowel and Lung cancers seems to the more aggressive and that latter more likely to have unsuccessful treatment outcomes. Its not just the environment ,or food supply unless there is have concentration of carcenogenics or heightened electromagnetic activity.

The approach to research is uncoordinated

My “pet” theory is that “stress” plays a much greater role in the incidence of increased cancer than hitherto was understood in the developed economies . The correlation between stress ands cancer is difficult to determine , but I think what we think and how we think makes much more difference than we realise.
The heart communicates with the mind regularly and the mind with all parts of the Body through the central nervous systems , all part s are linked. If we bombard our minds with continual worry and frustration I see the likelihood our body chemistry getting out of wack, and the subsequent growth of cancer cells.
 
Just to say I was mistaken in the earlier comment.
The water treatment chemical is sodium hypochlorite.
The resultant by-products are THMs (trihalomethane); TGMs are total gaseous mercury, and are another concern in modern water treatment.
Looking around, it looks like the British use the same chemical in 12% solution.
 
It must be hard listening all the sad stories about people who died because of cancer, what is the best way to talk to a person who recently lost a close friend or a close family member?.
 

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