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What Causes Cancer?

From: The Cancer Project – Web site –

This web site provides the latest on Cancer Project studies, information from research around the world, and editorials.
  • After examining data on 44,788 pairs of twins, researchers report that, in most cases, environmental factors have the greatest effect on cancer risk.
  • As reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers studied twins listed in Swedish, Danish, and Finnish registries, concluding that inherited genetic factors make a minimal contribution to cancer risk.
  • Cervical or Uterine Cancer - Heredity was judged to play NO detectable role.
  • Lung Cancer – Genetics accounted for only 26 % of risk.
  • Breast Cancer – 73% were due to environmental components
  • Ovary Cancer – 78% were due to environmental components
  • Prostate Cancer - 58% were found to be due to environmental components. Lichtenstein P. Holm NV, Verkasalo PK, etal. Environmental and heritable factors in the causation of cancer. New England Jouran of Medicine 2000;343:78-85
ACE Comment –

Lung and Cervical Cancers were found to be significantly elevated in the Greater Pottstown Area. Coincidence? Not Likely. Prostate and Breast Cancers were found to be significantly increased countywide. Coincidence? Not Likely.

Cancer Research Downplays Genetics

Philadelphia Inquirer July 13, 2000 by Rick Weiss, Washington Post. An extensive study showed that environmental and behavioral factors are more likely to cause the disease.
  • The vast majority of cancers are caused NOT by inherited factors, but by environmental and behavioral factors, such as chemical pollutants and unhealthy lifestyles.
  • Scientists have long recognized that environmental factors play a notable causal role in many cancers. People from rural Asia, where breast and colon cancers are rare, gradually grow more likely to get those diseases after moving to the U.S. – the result of mostly unidentified environmental factors.
  • Paul Lichtenstein of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, who led the study of 89,576 twins reported in today’s issue of New England Journal of Medicine said that “Environmental factors are more important than gene factors, and that's important to remember, especially since everyone thinks that everything is solved now that we have the human genome in our computers.”
  • According to Robert N. Hoover of the National Cancer Institute “new data show that even an identical twin has about a 90% chance of NOT getting the same cancer as his or her affected twin.”
U.S. EPA Report On Air Carcinogens Published 1998

EPA’s 1998 report said that 100% of the outdoor air in the U.S. is contaminated with eight cancer-causing industrial chemicals at levels that exceed EPA’s “benchmark” safety standards.
EPA used mathematical models to estimate year-round outdoor air concentrations for 148 industrial poisons in each of the nation’s 60,803 census tracts.
  • In its report, EPA said that outdoor air concentrations provide a reasonable estimate of toxic concentrations “that occur both outdoors and indoors, given the high rates of penetration into indoor environments for various HAP’s (hazardous air pollutants). In other words, EPA believes that being inside your home or workplace does not protect you from constant exposure to these eight carcinogens.
  • EPA said its mathematical models probably underestimate the true levels to which the population is exposed. Where actual measurements of toxic contaminants were available, EPA found that the measured levels exceeded the levels estimated by their models.
  • EPA also acknowledged that it may have underestimated the health effects because the eight chemicals, combined, may have additive or multiplier effects since people experience all of them simultaneously. However, EPA also acknowledged it has no way to take such combined effects into account.
  • EPA acknowledged that many of the chemicals may have health effects for which the agency has established no “benchmark” standards. This study ignored health effects like reproductive and developmental effects because EPA currently had set no benchmark safety levels for such effects.
  • Most (if not all) individuals are exposed to far more than just eight industrial poisons. These eight merely provide a toxic background to which other toxicants are added, depending upon a person’s or a community’s individual situation.
ACE Comment –

In the Greater Pottstown Area, in our air, we are exposed to hundreds of highly toxic chemicals in combination, including some of the most potent carcinogens known to mankind, such as multiple sources of dioxin and radiation. Our air has been identified as the top 10% of the most carcinogenic in the nation and when you look at the massive carcinogens emitted into the air in our area, it is not surprising to find such shocking cancer statistics for those breathing that air. Ironically, the top 10% of carcinogenic air does not even include our risks from dioxin and radiation.

Variable Susceptibility to Environmental Carcinogens
Dr. Frederica Perera from Columbia University School of Public Health argues that certain groups – the young, the elderly; and people with pre-existing disease; or immunologic or nutritional deficits – “are likely to have a GREATER RISK THAN OTHER MEMBERS OF THE POPULATION WHO ARE SIMILARLY EXPOSED TO CERTAIN CARCINOGENS” and that these groups are thus likely to disproportionately bear the risks of exposure to environmental carcinogens.

Dr. Perera argues that risk assessment methods must change to take into account individual variability in exposure and susceptibility to environmental carcinogens and that regulations, public education, and other interventions must reflect this understanding. Information on the molecular epidemiology of susceptibility to cancer, written by Dr. Perera,can be found in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Vol 88 (8): 496-509, April, 1996

ACE Comment –

This supports our statement that when DEP hands out pollution permits in the Greater Pottstown Area, their decision is based on inadequate and unprotective standards for our children, those already sick, and those with compromised immune systems. This includes a vast number of people since we have been over exposed to far too many seriously toxic chemicals in our air for far too long. This would explain such significant increases in cancer in this area and why some people get cancer and some do not.

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) results from an ACQUIRED (NOT INHERITED) GENETIC INJURY to the DNA of a single cell in the bone marrow.

ACE Comment –

This kind of leukemia ALL seems to be common in our area, which is not surprising considering the massive exposure risks to radiation and dioxin which can change the DNA of a cell.

LEUKEMIA is one of the sentinel cancers CAUSED by IONIZING RADIATION
It is well known that ionizing radiation can cause cancer, especially leukemia, thyroid, lung and breast cancer, in heavily exposed persons.
Commentary by Steve Wing, PhD and Carl Shy, MD, Dr. PH, University of North Carolina School of Public Health. The emergence in this study of a pattern of increasing cancer death rates with increasing low level radiation exposure.

ACE Comment –

In the Greater Pottstown Area leukemia has been found to be nearly double the PA rate. Countywide Leukemia has been found to be increased by 48% from 1985 to 1997. These people are exposed to multiple sources of ionizing radiation to which the general population is not. Ionizing radiation exposure is obviously a major factor in the severely elevated leukemia rates in our area.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is a group of cancers that arise in the white blood cells which is rapidly increasing in the industrialized world. People with compromised immune systems and/or autoimmune diseases have a substantially increased likelihood of getting NHL. Info from September 4, 1997.

In the authoritative reference book, Cancer, Epidemiology, and Prevention, Paul Scherr and Linda Mueller conclude that there are two clear threads visible in NHL research:

1. People whose immune systems are continually challenged seem to lose control, of latent cancer-causing infections that may be cause by viruses such as the Epstein Barr virus.
2. “Another group who appears to be at increased risk are, individuals with occupational exposures to chemicals”

ACE Comment –

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma has increased 61% from 85 to 97 according the PA Cancer Registry for Montgomery County.

a. In the Greater Pottstown Area and downwind from us, anecdotal evidence suggests that enormous numbers of people have severely compromised immune systems, which is not surprise considering the constant attack on them of seriously hazardous chemicals in their air. It is not surprising that so many people have NHL.
b. Autoimmune diseases also appear to be far too common. Another reason NHL is so elevated.

Provocative new research indicates that PCB’s too can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The connection between PCB’s and NHL was first suggested in 1996 by Swedish researcher, Lennart Hardell. PCB’s surpress the immune system. Hardell’s study has been confirmed by the National Cancer Institute.
  • Organochlorines, organo-phosphates, and phenoxy herbicides all increase the dangers of NHL. (In our homes, our public buildings, our schools, and our businesses we should avoid these products like the plague.)
  • 3 to 4 billion pounds of PCB’s were distributed into the environment in plastics, preservatives, varnishes, waxes, and carbonless carbon paper, etc. The location of 30% or roughly a billion pounds remain unknown.
  • Without major efforts to locate, capture, and destroy the one-to-two billion pounds of PCB’s that are “out there,” future generations will continue to be poisoned by PCB’s at great social and individual cost. PCB’s cause cancer, brain damage, and immune suppression.
ACE Comment –

It is logical that PCBs are a greater exposure risk to people exposed to emissions from Pottstown Landfill. All kinds of PCB products have undoubtedly made their way into the landfill and are now forming the gases and leachate which contaminate our community. Who knows if some of the unlocated billion pounds of PCBs found their way into the Pottstown Landfill. Increases in ALL are not surprising.

“U.S. affirms link between cancers, nuclear arms jobs”
The Philadelphia Inquirer 1-30-2000 by Reuters Washington

U.S. officials confirmed that nuclear weapons workers exposed to radiation and chemicals experienced higher-than-expected cancer rates.

The admission was contained in a draft report by the Energy Department and the White House after the government spent years minimizing the dangers of exposure to radiation and defending itself against charges that nuclear bomb plants had sickened workers.

The draft report was first reported by the New York Times and confirmed by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. Workers exposed to radiation and chemicals at 14 U.S. nuclear weapons plants had elevated rates of 22 categories of cancer , ranging from leukemia to lung cancer according to the Times. Beryllium, a toxic metal was at issue.

ACE Comment –

In this region, we are exposed to these kinds of radiation and chemicals on a continuous basis in low level doses, which have now been determined to harm human health. Two of the cancers mentioned are also significantly elevated in the Greater Pottstown Area, lung cancer and leukemia. The government spent years trying to minimize this threat just as they are now trying to minimize the threat in the Greater Pottstown Area.

National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS)

“Cancer in humans is one of the diseases found to be partially or completely initiated or caused by environmental factors.”

New and different threats to human health have been identified. Some of the most threatening are toxic wastes. NIEHS is the lead agency supporting basic and applied research for characterizing environmentally provoked illnesses. While it is not possible to determine exactly how much disability medical expense, salary lost, and psychological costs, environmentally associated diseases cause, the health impact is enormous.

ACE Comment –

The documented environmental health threats to this region go far beyond cancer. They have taken an enormous toll not only for the human costs of victims of cancer and other environmentally related diseases, but also on the economics involved with the hidden costs of pollution.

A Vast Delusion of Denial
A study - Journal of the American Medical Association, October, 1998
This study revealed that 40% of cancers are never diagnosed among people who die in hospitals. Thus, many cancers are never counted in the nation’s cancer statistics.

The “autopsy rate” means the percentage of people dying in a hospital who are autopsied. Importantly, the study at Tulane and Louisiana State universities pointed out that the autopsy rates have declined nationwide from an average of 50% in the mid-1960’s to about 5% in community hospitals.

Since autopsies are needed to discover 40% of the cancers in those who die in hospitals, it seems entirely possible that the decline in the autopsy rate completely explains the recently-reported declines in both cancer incidence and cancer deaths in the U.S.

“New Cancer Theories:
Policy Implications for Cancer Prevention”

By Joel Swartz and Richard Clapp Published in New Solutions, Summer 1992

During the 20th Century many substances have been identified as inducing a substantial number of human cancers. Synthesis, production, and use of many such substances have increased dramatically, sometimes by 1,000 fold, during the post-war period in many industrial societies. Rising cancer rates have been seen in these industrial societies 10 to 25 years after the rise in use of these carcinogens.

During the post war period, some of these substances have been shown to contribute substantially to the cancer burden among exposed persons. Many of these carcinogens were identified in the workplace because exposures were high and to an identifiable group of workers. The list of occupationally induced cancers was already large by 1980 and has grown considerably during the last decade.

There is evidence that these substances have contributed substantially to the cancer burden among the general population.
Epidemiologic studies have found significantly elevated cancer rates among the general population exposed to carcinogens at levels hundreds of times lower than work-pace levels.

The view generally accepted by scientists since the 1970’s is that there are no thresholds for cancer-causing agents, and that exposure to low doses of these substances produces some increased risk of developing cancer, with the risk being approximately proportional to dose.

Some scientists have proposed a new theory of cancer causation which is a new justification for the threshold concept. The main action of cancer-causing substances is to kill cells in target organs, thus inducing cells to divide to replace the killed cells. It is this cell division which is considered the most important step in cancer development. A consequence of this theory is that there is really no difference between carcinogens and other toxic substances, therefore cancer-causing substances should not be regulated differently than other toxic substances.

The threshold controversy has serious implications for public health and regulatory policy. THE CASE AGAINST THE NEW THRESHOLD THEORY. FRACTIONATION GIVES OPPOSITE RESULTS
It is typical that fractionation brings about an increase in the cancer potency.

The public is exposed to thousands of cancer-causing substances, generally at doses that are far lower than the doses at which their ability to cause cancer has been established. Under the NO-THRESHOLD THEORY, EXPOSURE TO LOW DOSES WILL CAUSE AN INCREASE IN THE RISK OF DEVELOPING CANCER.

Cancer development is a multi-stage process. A cell goes through several transitions between a normal cell and a fully cancerous cell. A number of factors can contribute to this process including: Point mutations (that is, a change in a single base in DNA), large-scale damage to chromosomes, movement of genes from one chromosome to another, defective cell regulation often induced by hormonal abnormalities, deficient immune protection against tumors and cell division. All the genetic changes can be induced by mutagenic substances, and the type of genetic change often is specific to a given mutagen. However, rapid cell division by itself does not induce cancer.
It is typical that fractionation brings about an increase in the cancer potency.

For example, VINYL CHLORIDE has been shown to induce tumors over a range of five orders of magnitude, and at the lowest dose the cancer potency is 30 times that at the highest dose. Analysis of a large number of bioassays showed that the cancer potency increased as dose was lowered in about 75% of the cases.
  • Peterson, al. “Oncogenesis, Mutagenesis, and DNA Damage, and Cytotoxicity in Cultured Mammalian Cells Treated with Alkyating Agents.” Cancer Research 39 (1979):131-138
  • Swartz, J., Riddiough, C., and Epsstein, S. “Analysis of Carcinogenesis Dose-Response Relations with Dichotomous Data: Implications for Caarcinogenic Risk Assessment” Teratoogenesis Carcinogenesis Mutagenesis 2 (1982): 179-204
ACE Comment –

The fractionation of Vinyl Chloride and the magnitude of our cancer risks from Occidental’s Vinyl Chloride is shown by this example. Occidental emits more vinyl chloride into our air than any other facility in the nation. Can there be any question why so many people in this area are full of tumors.

It is now possible to LINK specific carcinogens with specific genetic changes and with specific tumors. Recent studies have shown that carcinogens often activate genes called oncogenes, and that the activation of these genes represents one step in the transition from normal to malignant cells. Moreover, the site of the mutation varies as the carcinogen changes.

Authors’ Conclusion
The new Threshold Theory is seriously flawed, and is contradicted by important examples of know human carcinogens. The impact of the latest challenge to regulation of carcinogens has not yet been felt. We should continue our efforts to prevent human cancer regardless of arguments by corporations and their spokespersons which claim to show that environmental and occupational carcinogens have little or no health impact. Carcinogens should be treated as serious potential health hazards, and carcinogenicity should continue to be treated as a health hazard separate from acute toxicity. High-dose animal studies should continue to be treated as a health hazard at lower doses.

Chlorine Chemistry News
Several new studies have implicated chlorinated chemicals in human disease, including breast cancer. Chlorine chemistry is clearly the premier example of humans adopting a new technology without thinking about the consequences. Rachel’s #640 March 4, 1999

A recent study in Denmark reveals a relationship between breast cancer and the chlorinated pesticide dieldrin. The prospective study examined blood taken in 1976 from 77112 women enrolled in the Copenhagen City Heart Study. In the following 17 years, 268 of the women developed breast cancer. The use of dieldrin in Denmark and the U.S. was banned about 20 years ago but, in the industrialized world, nearly everyone’s body still contains small amounts of stored dieldrin, along with several hundred other industrial poisons, many of them chlorinated.

The authors of the Copenhagen study say theirs is the first to properly compare blood levels of organochlorine compounds because they adjusted completely for varying levels of serum in the blood of each individual. They conclude that, “These findings support the hypothesis that exposure to xeno-oestrogens may increase the risk of breast cancer.” Xeno-oestrogens are industrial chemicals that can mimic estrogen in the human body

U.S. and European health authorities have been hinting that the general public is being exposed to levels of dioxin that are probably causing harm in sensitive people. ATSDR has confirmed this. The term “dioxin” encompasses a family of 219 different toxic chlorinated chemicals, all with similar characteristics but different potencies. Some dioxins are more toxic than others. Dioxin is a highly toxic, unwanted byproduct of many industrial processes, including incineration of municipal and hazardous wastes and the manufacture of chemicals.

In December, 1998 the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in Atlanta published the long-awaited final report, TOXICOLOGICAL PROFILE FOR CHLORINATED DIBENZO-P- DIOXINS,

ATSDR established a minimum risk level for (MRL) for chronic (long-term) exposure to dioxin. An MRL is the amount of total dioxins expressed as toxic equivalents (TEQs) that ATSDR believes people can take in day after day without suffering adverse health effects.

ATSDR’s official MRL for chronic (long-term) exposure to dioxin is one picogram TEQ per kilogram of body weight per day.
A picogram is one trillionth of a gram, and there are 28 grams in one ounce. The ATSDR report says that the average exposure of U.S. citizens is currently three to six times as high as this “safe” level.
According to ATSDR, many people in the U.S. and elsewhere have dioxin exposures that exceed the average, including
  • People who live near municipal or hazardous wastes incinerators, or people living downwind.
  • People exposed at work or through environmental contamination, such as people in Times Beach, Missouri
  • People living neat any of the 110 Superfund sites where dioxins have been identified.
ACE comment –
People of the Greater Pottstown Area are extremely over-exposed to dioxin.
  • Occidental Chemical in Pottstown is a PVC plant where massive amounts of the chlorine chemical, vinyl chloride are incinerated and dioxin is a by-product of the PVC process.
  • Since 1989, Occidental Chemical has been declared a Superfund site. Dioxin must be a tremendous exposure risk.
  • The industrial waste 300 acre Pottstown Landfill contains massive amounts of chlorine chemicals. Burning the gas which is created from the wastes is a form of incineration. There are five sources of combustion at the Pottstown Landfill.
Comment by Rachel’s
The question is, can humans do things differently in the future, or are we doomed to stumble from one uninformed decision to another? Are there social mechanisms (such as environmental impact analysis) that could help us avoid massive mistakes like chlorine chemistry?

ACE comment –

Dioxin unquestionably causes cancer. EPA’s new report in 2000 said that dioxin is 10 times higher a cancer risk than first reported. Knowing the extreme toxicity and our extreme exposure risks from dioxin, we need to be working on ways to reduce or eliminate that dioxin risks. Dioxin must be a significant factor in our significantly elevated cancers. ACE asked DEP for an environmental impact statement before any further pollution permits were issued in the Greater Pottstown Area. DEP refused.

ACE comment –

The chemical and petrochemical industries are the biggest contributors to the cancer epidemic facing the American people. These substances threaten people’s health from the cradle to the grave. Yet when we are told there are ways to avoid falling victim to cancer we are told to eat healthy, exercise, not smoke or drink excessive amount of alcohol, used sunscreen and get yearly check ups by our health care professionals.

What is blatantly missing is the critical need to stop a primary cause of cancer – the poisoning of our air, water, and food by the chemical industry. This root cause of cancer is beyond the individual lifestyle choices that are so heavily emphasized in public education efforts. That must change in Pottstown.

Researchers from the Public Health Department in Montreal, Canada evaluated cancer incidence rates in people living around the Miron Quarry municipal landfill located in a densely populated area.

In the landfill gas they found a broad range of both recognized and suspected human carcinogens, including chemicals like vinyl chloride and benzene.

The researchers used data from the Quebec Tumor Registry to evaluate whether cancer incidence rates among persons living near the site were higher than expected during the period form 1981 to 1988.

The authors concluded that the “results of this study indicate that there may be increased risks for cancers of the stomach, liver, lung, prostate and cervix uteri among persons who live near the Miron Quarry MSW landfill.

ACE Comment –

We questioned why this kind of study was not done around the Pottstown Landfill by the Montgomery County Health Department when such significant increases of cancer were reported by them in Jan. 1998 in their cancer investigation. Instead MCHD claimed there was no link, when in fact they never looked for a link. ACE sent MCHD this and other studies before their investigation began, confirming many carcinogens in landfill gas, yet Pottstown Landfill gas was never tested. DEP issued an air permit for yet another expansion just weeks after the MCHD reported such alarming cancer statistics.

One might legitimately ask whether U.S. cancer rates are, in actual fact, continuing to climb steadily, with the trends hidden by misdiagnosis and the absence of autopsies.Why has the autopsy rate declined? Editor of the Journal, Dr. George Lundberg, says autopsies provide uncomfortable truths about disease, a truth that contradicts the medical community’s wishful thinking about the ability of high-tech medicine to diagnose illness accurately. He says many hospitals have autopsy rates at or near 0% despite many deaths. Dr. Lundberg says that measures are needed to return to a “hospital culture that values medical truth rather than values hiding it.

P.O. Box 3063
Stowe, PA 19464

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