Environmental Health: CANCER
Cancer: Controversial because cancer is increasing. There is scientific uncertainty over the main causes
of cancer and the best ways to approach the problem. The way we approach cancer, treat it, prevent it
etc, betrays a lot of political and economical interests in society. Please are profiting in some ways off of
people getting sick from cancer. Example: doctors, researchers and industry.
Causes of Cancer: All cancer is genetics: Doctors are not concerned about the causes of cancer but when
they do want to prevent it, they look at the genetics. The genetics that are altered when engaging in
various adverse behaviours: Environmental Focus: 80-90% of cancer is caused by exposure to
carcinogens (cancer causing agents). Cancer is caused by unhealthy lifestyles (ex: smoking, sedentism,
deit)- but healthy people also often get cancer. Cancer is a genetic disease (Biomedical): the focus here
is on cure and treatment- but genetics dont only account for the increase: adopted children have cancer
rates similar to adoptive parents.
Evidence linking caner to environmental causes: At risk behaviours: Chemicals and radiation are
mutagenic. Environmental causes: First world diseases: agricultural chemicals (pesticides, herbicides),
Cigarettes, Hormones (birth control pills), Radiation (x-ray, microwave), Building materials (Styrofoam),
Plastics and plasticizers, Diesel exhaust and carbon monoxide, heavy metals, cleaning agents
- Example from reading: Study showed links between breast cancer and pesticide DDT.
- Health Professionals are exposed to radiation all the time.
- A lot of these chemicals build up in our bodies over time, especially in fatty tissues. High body
burdens of carcinogenic chemicals have been correlated to increased incidence of various forms
- Human breast milk is often highly contaminated and may be a factor in increased childhood
cancers. Cancer rates are highest in: Agricultural areas (pesticides, herbicides, growth
hormones), Industrial/urban areas (industrial emissions, exhaust), near toxic waste sites,
Barriers preventing awareness of and action on environmental causes of cancer:
- Methodological Barriers: Huge time lag between the onset of cancer and the exposure of
carcinogens. It is very difficult to state that one thing causes cancer because we are exposed to
so many things in the environment that may cause cancer. We have a lot of technology and we
dont have the ability to fully know, and the majority of chemicals we also dont know a lot
- Risk Assessment: mostly study only the short terms effects and individual chemicals are looked
at. They are not looked at as a whole.
- Scientific Uncertainty: People have multiple carcinogen exposures over a lifetime and you need
a lot of studies to come up with what the causes of cancer really are. Political, Economic and Ideological Barriers:
- Doctors are focusing on the individuals and on treating rather than the cause. Its a Biomedical
Hegemonic Approach. The focus is less on prevention and the environmental concerns. The
research that is usually done focuses on detection, treatment and cure. Lack of funding can be
the cause of this: There is an industry built around testing the illness, and they invest a lot of
money to treat cures but not as much in prevention. There is less funding on environmental
causes and prevention. Economic interests of governments, corporations and industry: There
are campaigns that take the focus off of environmental causes. Polluting industries struggle to
keep focus away from environmental causes. Governments are sometimes culpable for
environmental illness. They focus on genetic and lifestyle because its too political. Scientists try
to create uncertainty through the use of PR, lobbyists etc. Even for doctors who try to make a
thesis that the cause is the environment, will be marginalized.
- Example from readings: Tobacco companies use public relations firms and lawyers to discredit
evidence that secondhand smoke causes disease and they get paid a lot to do this.
One of the first biologists to bring attention to the harmful effects of DDT (ie. On birds, humans, etc).
She wrote the award winning book Silent Spring(1962). People have a limited awareness of DDT. Then
the big chemical companies called her a communist and fanatic, tried to discredit her research. She had
breast cancer in 1960, but she couldnt reveal it because then she would be discredited. The PR
companies also highlighted the safety and importance of pesticides, they threatened to sue the
They provide research dollars. Where does the money go really? The research goes to biomedical cure
and treatment drugs. Almost none goes to prevention. They are funded by corporate and industry
sponsors like DuPont, GE, Nissan, beverage companies, pharmaceuticals etc- why would they want to
research these companies? They might have a say in what they research or what they dont research
because they control the funding. They push the focus on genetics rather than environmental, which
looks at the individual rather than as a whole.
Video: Chasing the Cancer Answer: 89% of all cancers are environmental said by clinics. The public is
being told that if they get cancer its their fault and its not the governments fault. Dr. Epstein says its the
fault of the cancer societies. Hormones injected in beef also contain carcinogens and Canadian beef is
banned in the EU, but Canadians say there is no proof. There arent as many companies invested in
prevention than for treatment because theres no incentive for them. 2006: cancer drugs are the largest
selling drugs in the world. Cancer costs the Canadian economy over $14 Billion a year. This is industry
managed business, and it happened over time. The EU restricts certain products with carcinogens
whereas Canada has the product. **Methodological, political, economic- cancers are a source of economic gain-many profit from the
treatment like chemo, and ideological barriers have largely prevented awareness of an action on
environmental causes of cancer**
January 9th: Cancer
1. To what degree do you think cancer charities are hampered by conflicts of interest? If cancer
charities are compromised in their ability to adequately address the rising incidence of cancer,
what other ways might cancer be more effectively addressed?
A) Are cancer charities compromised in their ability to fight cancer by conflicts of interest? B) What
might be the most effective way to deal with increased cancer rates?
A) Cancer charities are compromised- limited in terms of research especially when funded by large co-
operations like coca cola- they must meet the interest of the funders- reputation, tax breaks, profits.
Large co-operators that donate are environmental polluters- their products may cause cancer. Drug
companies- cancer treatment
B) Prevention education- increase physical activity. Prevention through regulating industry- increasing
awareness. Proper product labeling
Pre-urbanization: Goods manufactured by cottage industries: Manual labour- control over whole
- Pre-1800s- machines introduced to make things.
- Increased urbanization and pollutions
- Fragmentation- the labour is fragmented- one person does one thing and another person does
something else. Factory managers pay the people operating the machines much less now. Leads
to loss of control the worker has over his/her labour.
Industrial Revolution (1800s): People had to travel to the city to find work. Push for urbanization.
Caused pollution due to the coal which caused respiratory illnesses. Lead to fragmentation of labour
which turned into deskilling of labour. Increased work pace: crank up the pace to meet demands. Low
wages because anyone can do the job: no qualifications. No safety standards or workers rights.
Movie: Modern Times: Charlie Chaplins Modern Times: machinery and the amount of injuries. There
is an increased risk when trying to get the job done fast in a high risk job. The worker is faced with the
increased risk, not the employer. The employer has an interest to push the workers to increase their
profit. This often comes in the expense of the employee. Labour Struggles: With the rise of the industrial revolution there is a rise of unions. At the time, it was
equated by anarchy. The rise of unionism also corresponds with the rise of Marxism, which is the
opposite of capitalism, which is exploitative. The idea of class struggles. Profits of capitalist class are
made possible by paying workers less than their labour is worth. The only type of organization where
workers come together to work for a common goal and realize they are being exploited and then take
control. They did succeed in the rise of the welfare-state-social benefits and workers rights.
Explanations: Primary Industry: Canada has a high number of inherently dangerous jobs. This is part of
the reason workers injuries are rising. But at the same time jobs in primary industries have been
decreasing. But this doesnt explain in of itself the decreased death rate. Coal mining employs over 9000
people in Canada. Many miners are killed/injured through explosions, cave-ins, respiratory illnesses,
black lung and cardiovascular illnesses.
Explanation: Asbestos: Asbestos is a rock. It is estimated that 70% of increased workers fatality is due to
asbestos exposure. Most affected are workers in asbestos mining, manufacturing and construction. It is