Stopping the spread

Editorial by Bruce Wark

illustration Graham Pilsworth

I had a lot of fun in my 19 years as a CBC journalist. The pay wasn’t bad and it was great being famous. I have to admit though, there were days when life was hectic in the CBC sausage factory. Sometimes we were so busy grinding out the baloney that we forgot to ask obvious questions like: “Why are so many of my relatives and friends getting cancer?” Mind you, that’s not the sort of question CBC journalists are supposed to ask. They’re taught to ignore their own experience and concentrate on what the “experts” say. And the experts have been telling us for decades that people get cancer mainly because they don’t live right. They eat too much fat and too few veggies, lounge on the couch and smoke and drink. The not-too-subtle message they’re sending is that if you’re riddled with cancer, you’ve only got yourself to blame.

When CBC journalist Wendy Mesley found out she had a malignant lump in her left breast, she broke with CBC tradition and started asking why.

“Other than some misguided habits of my youth, I’ve always been something of a health freak, exercising and trying to eat right,” the 48-year-old Mesley told a Globe and Mail reporter. “So I want to know, what did I do? What did I eat?”

Mesley’s questions prompted her to produce a documentary for Marketplace, the CBC TV show she co-hosts with Erica Johnson. The doc, called “Chasing the Cancer Answer” aired on March 5th, but I hereby forgive you if you missed it. Marketplace is buried on Sundays at 7pm. As a result, few people saw Mesley getting pricked for blood samples as researchers tested for the presence of heavy metals, pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Sure enough, her blood contained a variety of pollutants, including PCBs and organochlorine pesticides, cancer-causing chemicals that have been banned in Canada, but that persist in the environment and in our bodies. The researchers also found cadmium and nickel, toxic substances which are also suspected of causing cancer.

Mesley interviewed Dr. Sam Epstein, the American cancer expert who says that our air, water and soil are contaminated with industrial chemicals and that food, cosmetics, drugs and household products contain a wide range of undisclosed carcinogens. In his latest book, Cancer-Gate: How to Win the Losing Cancer War, Epstein argues we’re in the midst of a cancer epidemic. Instead of concentrating on cancer research to find new treatments and cures, Epstein says governments should be working to prevent cancer in the first place, with strict regulations designed to eliminate industrial pollution and the carcinogenic substances in food and other consumer products.

The most interesting part of Mesley’s documentary is the video footage she gathered between January 30 and February 2, 2006, at the International Congress on Anti-Cancer Treatment in Paris. She talked to reps from multinational drug companies, who told her proudly that the cancer business was going great. This year, the companies expect to sell $37 billion worth of cancer drugs, the world’s fastest-growing class of pharmaceuticals. Conference organizer Dr. James Holland told Mesley bluntly that drug companies don’t invest in cancer prevention because there’s no money in it for them. On the other hand, there are huge profits to be made from treating the disease.

Mesley’s doc criticizes the Canadian Cancer Society for being part of a powerful cancer establishment. The Society says cancer is mainly caused by lifestyle choices such as poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking, and that only a small percentage of cancers come from toxins in the environment or in consumer products.

Drug companies are among the Society’s top financial contributors, as are a variety of big banks, food companies, manufacturers and media outfits. Seems that just about everyone wants to climb aboard the cancer-fighting bandwagon, contributing more money for expensive research and spending more money on costly treatments. “The more disease there is, the greater the profit,” Dr. Epstein told Mesley. “The more money you spend on cancer, the more cancer you get."

Is there a better way to battle cancer? Email:

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