Apr 142014

I don’t know about you, but cancer is probably the scariest word in the English dictionary as far as I’m concerned. Frighteningly little is known about cancer and, indeed, it seems that some of the treatments for it are superfluous. Researchers acknowledge, for instance, that many women with breast cancer would do just fine with surgery alone but, since they can’t determine who, if anyone, actually needs chemotherapy and/or radiation, one or both of these treatments is regularly prescribed for all who are diagnosed. This perpetuates the perception that it was the therapy that effected the cure, when perhaps this was not the case at all.

Seven years ago, the friend of a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. She opted to eschew conventional treatments and instead changed her diet and did some other Eastern-medicine type things. The lump went away. Today, the cancer is back. And doctors are quick to blame my friend’s friend for her plight. If only she’d taken a conventional route 7 years ago, they say, this wouldn’t be happening now. But the American Cancer Society reports that the rate of breast cancer recurrence after 5 years is 20%, so who’s to say that her recurrence wouldn’t have happened anyway?

The bottom line is that despite of the billions of dollars spent annually on cancer research, there is pitifully little that we know. And yes, you read that right. The National Cancer Institute, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, had a 2010 budget of over $6 billion. And that’s just one source. There are monies being spent by other federal agencies, state agencies, private groups, voluntary organizations, and corporations.

Meanwhile, rates of cancer continue to climb. According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program, an arm of the National Cancer Institute, cancer was diagnosed in 400 of every 100,000 people in 1975 and in 464 of every 100,000 people in 2009. Breast cancer, a particular concern to women, increased from 105/100,000 in 1975 to 130/100,000 in 2009, a 25% increase! True, there’s been some improvement in mortality rates. In 1975 the overall mortality from cancer was 199/100,000; in 2009 it was 173/100,000. For breast cancer the numbers are 31/100,000 in 1975 and 22/100,000 in 2009, which is roughly a 25% decrease. So it’s pretty much a wash: 25% more cases are diagnosed, while 25% fewer deaths occur. Twenty-four years of research has netted nothing, more or less.

Why don’t we know more?

Why is cut, burn and poison still the treatment of choice?

What is happening in our environment – whether it’s the air we breathe, food we eat, water we drink, or activity we don’t get — that’s leading to increased rates of cancer? The World Cancer Research Fund reports that “The rate for all cancers… was 1.7 times higher in more developed compared with less developed countries.” The rate of breast cancer is more than double in developed countries than in less developed countries. Skin cancer, which seems ot be all the buzz in the news lately, is practically unheard of in less developed countries. You know, the places where people are outdoors much of the time and few have even heard of SPF. This certainly suggests an environmental influence.

Who is responsible for looking at these issues and answering questions? How can government agencies with multi-billion dollar budgets fail to make progress and yet continue with business as usual?