When looking at the billions invested in cancer research and comparing it to the still-very-high cancer incidence, you wonder… Are we losing the war on cancer? And if we are, what needs to be done differently?
President Richard Nixon declared “War on Cancer” in 1971 but 40 years and billions of dollars later cancer continues to be the second leading cause of death in the United States.
Statistics are alarming. Let’s look at some numbers:
- 7.6 million cancer deaths worldwide
- 12.4 million new annual cancer cases
- $225 billion spent in the United States on cancer research and treatment
- $1.5 trillion, global
In the past 40 years a robust cancer industry has indeed advanced around the development of sophisticated diagnostic devices, tests and medications. However, we are still losing the war on cancer.
Is it that perhaps winning this war on cancer is bad for business?
The nationwide Cancer Prevention Coalition (CPC) states that “winning the war on cancer means preventing cancer,” pondering if prevention would be bad for the pharmaceutical and mammography business:
- In 2009, one single mammography equipment manufacturer, the Japanese Konica Minolta made a net profit of $184,077 million.
- A diagnostic facility in Naples, Florida (a small town) gives an average of 2,500 mammograms per year at about $300 each.
- Fred Hutchinson from the Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA, estimated in 2009 that the average cost of lifetime per patient treatment for breast cancer ranged from $20,000 to $100,000.
- The world market value for cancer therapies is $53 billion reveals Astrazeneca, seller of Arimidex (anastrozole) and Nolvadex (tamoxifen), two commonly used chemotherapy drugs.
- Astrazeneca total lobbying expenditures in 2011 were $5,640,000.
In contrast, the CPC says that other than smoking, Congress has not advanced any important legislation aimed at cancer prevention in the past few years.
But is winning the war on cancer just about intervention?
War on cancer: Prevention is the way to go
In the first part of this series, we mentioned that cancer develops as the result of many different factors including genetics, the environment and the functioning of the immune system. All these factors influence each other. Prevention requires that we understand these factors and the influence they really have on developing cancer.
Genetics is not destiny
The science of epigenetics tells us that our genes respond to the environment. Our behavior, exposure to toxins, nutrition and, especially, our levels of stress may activate chemical switches that regulate what the gene does or doesn’t (gene expression).
When researchers study identical twins, which develop from a single zygote (egg), they can examine how the environment accounts for the individual differences between them.
Classical twin studies have helped researchers identify which traits are inherited, which diseases have a genetic component and which traits were the product of environmental influences.
Researchers today agree that increasing levels of stress (emotional, mental, chemical, bacteriological, electromagnetic) is behind a debilitated immune system. And a debilitated immune system allows cancer cells to grow unchecked until symptoms take you to the doctor, in many cases already too late for a remedy.
Inherited genetic factors associated with cancer
Your doctor might have already told you that if your mother (or other women in your family) had breast or ovarian cancer, you should test for BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations. BRCA belong to a class of human genes known as tumor suppressors. Mutation of these genes has been associated with said cancers.
Harmful BRCA1 mutations (not all BRCA mutations are harmful) may also increase the risk for women of developing cancer of the uterus, cervix, pancreas and colon. Risk of pancreatic, stomach and gallbladder cancer and melanoma is also increased in carriers of the harmful BRCA2 mutations.
The risks also exist for men. BRCA1 and BRCA2 harmful mutations increase their risk of breast cancer, testicular, prostatic and pancreatic cancer.
However, it’s not that if your blood tests positive for the harmful version of the gene you will develop cancer. It just means there is an increased risk.
Only 5 to 10 percent of all breast and ovarian cancers are associated with inherited genetic factors.
Not every woman in a family where these cancers appear has the harmful mutations and there might be members of the family developing cancers not associated with these genes.
Genetics is hope
Hope arises from knowing your odds of developing cancer, your risk factors and what adds to those risks. You can then take action to prevent cancer.
Unhealthy lifestyles may lead to creating an environment (inside the body) where cancer cells would be more likely to thrive, reproduce and kill.
Most cancer specialists recommend keeping a healthy weight, decreasing consumption of alcohol, fat and sugar if we want to prevent cancer.
Exercising daily (moderate exercise), eating healthy and reducing levels of stress with practices such as meditation, yoga, massage and Reiki, while also resolving emotional issues through counseling have also proven effective in preventing harmful genes from expressing.