The Preventable Cancer Epidemic

One of my fellow ecol-econ list members tipped me off about a report, recently released by The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, entitled The Cancer Epidemic as a Social Event. The increasingly large percentages of Canadian men and women contracting cancer is quite staggering, and while the medical profession attributes the cancer epidemic to genetic and lifestyle factors, the authors of the report maintain that carcinogens in our air, water, food, and workplaces are the significant causes of cancer. The full report is well worth reading. At the end of it one is left wondering what is going on those parts of the world where regulatory regimes are lax or non-existent. A media release on the report is reproduced below:


Cancer has become such an epidemic that 41% of Canadian males and nearly 38% of Canadian females will develop some form of the disease, and 27% of males and 23% of females will die from it.

While the medical profession and cancer research institutions attribute most of the cancer increase to genetic and lifestyle factors, the authors of a new CCPA study assert that carcinogens in our air, water, food, and workplaces are significant causes of cancer.

Economist Robert Chernomas and researcher Lissa Donner draw from reputable studies and findings to conclude that many cancers could be prevented if the cancer-causing chemicals were removed from our environment.

They note that in 2001, Canadian industries admitted releasing 18,455,237 kilograms of known carcinogens into our air, soil, and water. “Such industries have been called ‘merchants of death’ for putting profits ahead of human health”–but they have been aided and abetted by a lax regulatory and enforcement system that allows such deadly pollution to continue.

The authors are critical of the main objective of the fight against cancer, which is to find treatments or cures rather than promoting preventive measures. “Industries have argued that for every carcinogen there is a safe level of exposure. But our guiding principle should be that the safest exposure is no exposure.”

Chernomas and Donner argue that the war on cancer can be won, but that the social, economic and political changes that are needed will require collective action by the environmental, occupational health and nutrition movements. Acting together, they can “stem the tide of cancer that is sweeping across Canada.”