When I first started to research and write about chemicals in Canada’s food supply, no one close to me had had cancer. Now, dozens of years later, several friends have died from the disease (two of them environmental leaders, one pictured in this book) and my partner and others near me are survivors. That doesn’t prove there’s a cancer epidemic, only that I’m older and have known more people. Yet the authors of Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic not only provide compelling evidence of the epidemic’s reality, but also challenge us to not sit on our hands, leaving others to do the heavy lifting.
The book’s message is that carcinogens in our air, water, fruits, meats, vegetables and over-processed food, and toxic substances that assault our immune systems are fueling the cancer epidemic. We must act to stop this “toxic trespass.” The introduction examines some key truths about cancer: that it’s not a disease related only to aging; that the main culprits are not only “lifestyle” choices (alcohol, tobacco, sun exposure, obesity, lack of exercise) or genetics, but also the more complex matters of environmental and occupational exposures; that cancer prevention often gets short shrift in the cancer research and healthcare industries because seeking cures is more glamorous and profitable; and that the only way to successfully cope with spiraling cancer treatment costs is prevention.
To help us think about cancer and act to prevent it, the authors invoke the precautionary principle: If something threatens our health, precautionary measures should be taken even if cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. Better safe than sorry.
This handbook is thorough, accessible and practical. It is credible because of its meticulous references that include reputable reports from medical journals, governments, health agencies, international bodies and leading environmental organizations – almost all of which are available on the web.
While the authors are Canadian, the book is written with both Canadian and American data and perspectives, and for that reason should have broad appeal and influence. The 101 solutions are a user-friendly, kick-ass guide to action for cancer prevention. Each solution fits on two pages, with extensive web links, making each subject seem not too daunting.
There are positive solutions for individuals (eating organic food, using safe household and garden products), parents, action groups (planning a winning campaign), cities (smart urban- growth patterns, curbing electromagnetic radiation by limiting “Wi-Fi” internet) and labour. There are equally feasible solutions for businesses (moving voluntarily to green production), governments (building a national cancer strategy; cleaning up air, water and toxic waste sites; promoting green energy sources), developing nations (“leapfrogging over the Western path”) and the global community. The solutions include a mix of personal and local community actions, and those involving political advocacy.
The 15 solutions for business and 20 for government aren’t likely to happen without pressure from customers, shareholders and voters, underscoring another role for individuals and action groups. The authors apportion most of the solutions to our governing bodies because “the ultimate responsibility for the primary prevention of cancer lies with governments.”
To the authors’ credit, they acknowledge where there is conflicting evidence about some cancers’ links to specific environmental exposures, and applaud those in both the public and private sectors who are taking progressive actions for cancer prevention. The writing is bright, activist in tone and inspiring. If it occasionally veers into hyperbole (“we must end corporate piracy”), I think the cause is worth it. The photographs – survivors, casualties, advocates – are wonderful. The flaws are minor: The reader could benefit from a more thorough index and a few controversial topics get scant mention (such as water fluoridation).
Eveyone should find this book useful since cancer touches us all. Pick a few solutions and work on them. Find that you’re already doing a dozen, then pick a few more to work on. I challenge anyone, including those with vested interests in either the chemicals that cause cancer or the cancer treatment industry, to argue against this book’s 101 solutions.
No one ever said this was going to be easy. Cancer prevention is inextricably linked to global sustainability. The massive lifestyle change that we now need is arguably the greatest health and environmental challenge humankind has ever faced. But there’s no room for pessimism – Liz Armstrong, Guy Dauncey and Anne Wordsworth won’t hear of it. Their book provides the tools for us to build cancer prevention action plans from both the bottom up and the top down.
Linda Pim, an environmental policy analyst and supporter of local food, has written extensively about environmental contamination of food.