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The Cancer Epidemic: Its Environmental Causes

By       Message Karl Grossman       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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The World Health Organization is projecting that this year cancer will become the world's leading cause of death. Why the epidemic of cancer? Death certificates in United States show cancer as being the eighth leading cause of death in 1900.

Why has it skyrocketed to now surpass heart disease as number one?

Is it because people live longer and have to die of something? That's a factor, but not the prime reason as reflected by the jump in age-adjusted cancer being far above what could be expected from increased longevity. And it certainly doesn't explain the steep hike in childhood cancers. Is it lifestyle, diet and genetics, as we have often been told? They are factors, but not key reasons.

The cause of the cancer epidemic, as numerous studies have now documented, is largely environmental--the result of toxic substances in the water we drink, the food we eat, the consumer products we use, the air we breathe. (Some of the pollution is voluntarily caused--by smoking. But most is involuntary.)

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As the President's Cancer Panel in May in a 240-page report titled "Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now" declared: "The American people--even before they are born--are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures." It said: "With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action."

It pointed to chemicals and radiation as major causes of cancer and stated: "Cancer continues to shatter and steal the lives of Americans. Approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from the cancer. The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing"The burgeoning number and complexity of known or suspected environmental carcinogens compel us to act to protect public health."

The panel urged President Obama "most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation's productivity, and devastate American lives."

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In 1980, another presidential panel, the Presidential Toxic Substances Strategy Committee, came to the same conclusion. It declared:

"Of the hazards to human health arising from toxic substances, cancer is a leading cause

of concern. Cancer is the only major cause of death that has continued to rise since 1900.

It is now second only to heart disease as a cause of death"Some of the increase in cancer

mortality since 1900 is a function of the greater average age of the U.S. population and

the medical progress made against infectious disease. But even after correcting for age,

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both mortality (death) rates and incidence (new cases) of cancer are increasing. Many

now believe that environmental (nongenetic) factors--life style and work and

environmental exposures--are significant in the great majority of cancer cases seen."

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Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and host of the nationally syndicated TV program Enviro Close-Up.

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