OTTAWA -- Man-made chemicals in air, water, food and the workplace are
largely to blame for a devastating cancer epidemic that will strike 41 per
cent of Canadian males and 38 per cent of females, says a new study.
Genetics and lifestyle factors such as smoking and diet can't explain
the soaring cancer rates of recent decades, says the report by the
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
From 1970 to 1998, the incidence of the disease increased by 35 per
cent for men and 27 per cent for women after the effects of population
aging have been discounted, say authors Lissa Donner and Robert
When lung cancers are removed from the stats, the rates still increased
by 24 per cent for males and 17 per cent for females over the period.
The toll is more dramatic when considered over a longer time. In 1921,
cancer killed seven per cent of males and nine per cent of females, but
now the death rate has risen to 27 per cent for men and 23 per cent for
women, says the report.
Mainstream medical organizations have tended to downplay the importance
of the role of environmental contaminants in cancer. The Canadian Cancer
Society estimates that only five per cent of cancers can be directly
linked to contaminants in the environment, which would represent about
6,400 cases a year in Canada.
But dissidents such as U.S. scientist Samuel Epstein, author of several
books on cancer, say 80 to 90 per cent of human cancer is determined
Authors Donner and Chernomas say the medical profession is fixated on
screening, diagnosis and damage control rather than prevention.
"Mainstream medicine places the blame for cancer on lifestyle and
genetics -- and emphasizes research into changes at the individual level.
It identifies symptoms and treats them, while largely ignoring the root
causes of disease.
"We believe that successful cancer prevention requires a very different
They note that more than 18 million kilograms of known carcinogens were
released into the Canadian environment in 2001, according to the federal
government's National Pollutant Release Inventory.
Donner conceded in an interview that many carcinogenic chemicals are
useful and would be hard to replace. For example, chlorine is vital in
water treatment, but can interact with organic materials to form
carcinogenic chemicals known as trihalomethanes.
But Donner rejects the view that rising cancer rates are an inescapable
fact of life in the modern era.
"That kind of resigned attitude is not going to create a healthy
society," she said. "We need a strategy, to pick and choose and figure out
where to go next. "