Opinion: Escalating Incidence of Childhood Cancer Ignored
Tramès per Klaus Rudolph (Citizens'
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
· 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
· 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
· 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
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
(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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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: email@example.com )
Message from Roy Beavers