* Opinion: Escalating Incidence of Childhood Cancer Ignored (24/7/02)

Tramès per Klaus Rudolph (Citizens' Initiative Omega)

By Samuel Epstein, M.D. and Quentin Young, M.D.

Environment News Service

CHICAGO, Illinois, May 9, 2002 (ENS) - Since passage of the 1971 National Cancer Act, launching the "War Against Cancer," the incidence of childhood cancer has steadily escalated to alarming levels. Childhood cancers have increased by 26 percent overall, while the incidence of particular cancers has increased still more - acute lymphocytic leukemia, 62 percent; brain cancer, 50 percent; and bone cancer, 40 percent.

The federal National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the charitable American Cancer Society (ACS), the cancer establishment, have failed to inform the public, let alone Congress and regulatory agencies, of this alarming information. As importantly, they have failed to publicize well documented scientific information on avoidable causes responsible for the increased incidence of childhood cancer.

· Over 20 U.S. and international studies have incriminated paternal and maternal exposures (pre-conception, during conception and post-conception) to a wide range of occupational carcinogens as major causes of childhood cancer.

· There is substantial evidence on the risks of brain cancer and leukemia in children from frequent consumption of nitrite-dyed hot dogs; consumption during pregnancy has been similarly incriminated. Nitrites, added to meat for coloring purposes, have been shown to react with natural chemicals in meat (amines) to form a potent carcinogenic nitrosamine.

· Consumption of non-organic fruits and vegetables, particularly in baby food, contaminated with high concentrations of multiple residues of carcinogenic pesticides, poses major risks of childhood cancer, besides delayed cancers in adult life.

· Numerous studies have shown strong associations between childhood cancers, particularly brain cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukemia, and domestic exposure to pesticides from uses in the home, including pet flea collars, lawn and garden; another major source of exposure is commonplace use in schools.

· Use of lindane, a potent carcinogen in shampoos for treating lice and scabies, infesting about six million children annually, is associated with major risks of brain cancer; lindane is readily absorbed through the skin.

· Treatment of children with Ritalin for "Attention Deficit Disorders" poses risks of cancer, in the absence of informed parental consent. Ritalin has been shown to induce highly aggressive rare liver cancers in rodents at doses comparable to those prescribed to children.

· Maternal exposure to ionizing radiation, especially in late pregnancy, is strongly associated with excess risks of childhood leukemia.

It is of particular significance that the cancer establishment ignored the continuing increase in the incidence of childhood cancer in its heavily promoted, but highly arguable, March 1998 "claim to have reversed an almost 20 year trend of increasing cancer cases.

"The failure of the cancer establishment to warn of these avoidable cancer risks reflects mindsets fixated on damage control - screening, diagnosis, and treatment - and basic genetic research, with indifference to primary prevention, as defined by research and public education on avoidable causes of cancer.

For the ACS, this indifference extends to a well documented longstanding track record of hostility, such as supporting the Chlorine Institute in defending the continued global use of chlorinated organic pesticides, and assurances in the 2002 Cancer Facts and Figures that cancer risks from dietary pesticides and ionizing radiation are all at such low levels as to be "negligible."

This indifference to primary prevention is compounded by conflicts of interest, particularly with the giant cancer drug industry. Not surprisingly, "The Chronicle of Philanthropy," the nation's leading charity watchdog, has charged that, "The ACS is more interested in accumulating wealth than saving lives."

The minimal priorities of the cancer establishment for prevention reflects mindsets and policies and not lack of resources. NCI's annual budget has increased some 20 fold since passage of the 1971 Act, from $220 million to $4.2 billion, while revenues of the ACS are now about $800 million. NCI expenditures on primary prevention have been estimated as under four percent of its budget, while ACS allocates less than 0.1 percent of its revenues to primary prevention and "environmental carcinogenesis."

It should be particularly stressed that fetuses, infants and children are much more vulnerable and sensitive to toxic and carcinogenic exposures than are adults. It should also be recognized that the majority of carcinogens also induce other chronic toxic effects, especially in fetuses, infants and children. These include endocrine disruptive and reproductive, haematological, immunological and genetic, for which there are no available incidence trend data comparable to those for cancer.

The continued silence of the cancer establishment on avoidable causes of childhood, besides a wide range of other, cancers is in flagrant denial of the specific charge of the 1971 National Cancer Act "to disseminate cancer information to the public." As seriously, this silence is a denial of the public's inalienable democratic right-to-know of information directly impacting on their health and lives, and of their right to influence public policy.

Whether against cancer or terrorism, war is best fought by preemptive strategies based on prevention rather than reactively on damage control. As importantly, the war against cancer must be waged by leadership accountable to the public interest and not, as is still the case, special agenda private interests. The time for open public debate on national cancer policy is long overdue.

(Samuel Epstein, M.D. is chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, and professor emeritus of environmental and occupational medicine, University of Illinois School of Public Health, Chicago. Email him at: epstein@uic.edu

Quentin Young, M.D. is chairman of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, and past president of American Public Health Association, Chicago. Email him at: info@hmprg.org )

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