Is the system killing us?
Spectrums friends death reminded me of this article, is the system killing us?
Beat Cancer? November 20, 2004
By Yves Engler
Want to help beat cancer? Here?s a simple answer: provide lots of money to big corporations?and don?t bother worrying about probable causes.
That more or less summarizes the October 16th Economist magazine issue titled ?beating cancer,? which reports that the cancer rate is rising but manages to completely bypass any discussion regarding why this may be the case. Instead the articles jump straight to the billion-dollar question, namely, ?how can we cure it??
It is unclear how useful this line of questioning has been. Since Richard Nixon launched the ?war on cancer? in 1971 the US has given $70 billion ? almost entirely for research on pills and diagnostics - to the National Cancer Institute. Yet from 1971 to 2001 the US cancer mortality rate increased from 163 per hundred thousand individuals to 194. (Economist)
The pattern is similar around the world. Cancer killed 6.6 per cent of Canadian males and 8.6 per cent of females in 1921. Now the death rate has risen to 27.4 per cent and 23.1 per cent respectively. (Canadian press 2004-03-04)
The Economist explains away the rising cancer rate by calling cancer a ?disease of affluence?. But, cancer mortality rates are adjusted for life expectancy, meaning that cancer is increasing faster then longevity.
The Economist?s jump from the rising cancer rate to how drugs and diagnostics can beat it ? sidestepping why ? is for a good reason: Corporations have got to get paid. And there is a lot of money to be made from cancer treatments. The Financial Times reports that ?3,000 of the 7,300 medicines under development are for cancer.? (Oct.27th 2004)
The bio-medical industrial complex is a rapidly expanding mammoth. Pharmaceutical companies brought in $466 billion worldwide last year and according to the Wall Street Journal ?the cost of diagnostic scans in the US is approaching $100 billion a year.? (August 2004) Medical technologies around the world are a burgeoning industry.
Yet when it comes to cancer the bio-medical industry has not had much success, as evidenced by rising cancer mortality. Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that many tests are of little medical use and may, in fact, pose health risks. Samuel Epstein emeritus professor of environmental medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health provides an alarming example:
?We have excellent data showing that pre-menopausal mammography is not only ineffective, but is also dangerous for a variety of reasons, including the high doses of radiation. Two films of a breast in a pre-menopausal woman give that woman about 500 times the dose of a chest X-ray. If a pre-menopausal woman gets a mammography every year over a ten-year period, the dosages of radiation can well amount to about ten rads?a rad is a ?radiation absorbed dose,? a measure of radiation exposure. Radiation from routine pre-menopausal mammography reaches reasonably close to the kind of dosage that women got in Hiroshima and Nagasaki outside of the major epicenter where the atom bomb was exploded.?
The bio-medical industrial complex?s economic importance helps to explain the Economist?s sole focus on pills and diagnostic equipment as chief cancer fighting agents. In an issue devoted to beating cancer, The Economist did not use the word carcinogen even once. And the only time the Economist used the word toxic was to mention possible complications associated with the simultaneous use of two anti-cancer drugs. This kind of writing allows the Economist to remain a loyal subject of powerful industries, particularly chemical corporations.
Obviously big tobacco prefers not to highlight the link between smoking and cancer, especially as they expand by exporting to less-regulated poor countries. The same goes for nuclear power and chemical industries.
This doesn?t change the fact that smoking causes cancer. (The Economist admits in passing that ?the biggest success [fighting cancer] has been due to people giving up smoking, rather than to new treatments.?) Likewise, on the 21st of October the Guardian newspaper reported that, ?plutonium particles discharged by nuclear plants? can cause damage to DNA and increase the risk of cancer.? This increased risk is substantially higher than had previously been accepted in England.
The chemical industry ? from household solvents to pesticides, pharmaceuticals to plastics ? is probably the biggest producer of carcinogens. There are about 100,000 different chemicals in use and companies are releasing an average of 2 to 5 new ones into our environment each day, with little testing done for safety. (Cambridge quarterly p.446) Worldwide production of chemical substances has increased enormously from 1 million tones in 1930 to 400 million tones today. (Le Monde Feb 14 2004)
The Canadian Press explains: ?manmade chemicals in air, water, food and the workplace are largely to blame for a devastating cancer epidemic which will strike 41 per cent of Canadian males and 38 per cent of females.? For instance, we know there is a significant relationship between the consumption of dairy and animal fats and a number of cancers. ?But?, according to Samuel Epstein, ?that?s a reflection of the fact that these are highly contaminated with a wide range of industrial, chemical, and petrochemical carcinogens.?
Despite this knowledge, attempts to halt the flow of known carcinogens or to expand chemical testing are countered at every turn. During a recent meeting of the Rotterdam convention, both Canada and Russia blocked a proposal to ban exports of Chrysotile asbestos -a well-known carcinogen - to poor countries. They both happen to be the biggest asbestos exporters in the world.
In a far-reaching effort to chip away at the application of the ?cautionary principal? to their products, the chemical lobby has made great efforts to undermine the European Union?s comprehensive Chemical review program, known as Reach. Rather than requiring regulators to prove why a chemical should be banned, Reach puts the onus on the businesses to test the chemicals and prove their safety. Yet after heavy lobbying by European chemical companies and the US, the proposal to review 30, 000 chemicals was weakened last year. Reach?s estimated testing costs to businesses were reduced from more than $14 billion over 11 years to $3.7 billion. (WSJ October 1)
And after additional pressure, it will be diluted further. Last March, Colin Powell organized US diplomats in a lobby aimed at European governments in order to counter ?controversial European Commission plans for new regulations on the chemicals industry.?(Financial Times)
On October 1st the Wall Street Journal quoted the New European Union industry commissioner, who had the following to say about Reach: ?we may need to do a little bit more to lighten the burden on business.?
Perhaps more important than asking which pharmaceuticals to ingest in a bid to cure cancer, we should be wondering about the burden of disease caused by untested chemicals.