I like to believe that the Canadian Cancer Society and the hundreds of other organizations like them have the best intentions with their work.
I am not insensitive to those of you who have had success from treatment, and perhaps you or someone you love has been saved by early detection. My dad is amongst that group and I am grateful for the developments in those areas. The challenge is that until more focus and money shifts toward prevention-based research, education and government regulations, cancer rates are only going to increase. How do we turn the tides?
I somehow ended up on the mailing list for the Canadian Cancer Society. Last month I was sent some propaganda to encourage me to host a fundraiser in my office. The pink information sheet included in the mailing highlighted the following:
- 1 in 9 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer
- $136 million dollars has been raised over the last 20 years to find a cure
- The only note on prevention was the discovery of a new way to 'prevent' cancer in high-risk women with a drug called Exemestane (it reduces estrogen production in cancer specific sites, such as the adipose tissue of the breasts). This, however, isn't actually prevention.
There is plenty of celebrated research that shows a drop in breast cancer in the early 2000's. This has nothing to do with research on prevention and lifestyle factors, but is instead attributed to a drop in the use of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for menopausal women. Despite safety approvals by the FDA and Health Canada, use of HRT substantially increased the risk of breast cancer. The drop seen in 2002 and 2003 is largely attributed to the cessation of a drug, not actual prevention. No evidence could be found showing a continued decline since the initial drop in HRT use.
There has also been research that shows greater survival rates. This, however, is a challenging concept to accept given the evidence based research that also shows gross over diagnosis in women. Over diagnosis of invasive breast cancer in women between the ages of 50 and 69 years ranges from 30%-42%. More recent research suggests that the massive push toward screening over the last 30 years has resulted in 1.3 million women being misdiagnosed with breast cancer. The risk associated with mammography screening in women between the ages of 40 and 49 have been shown to outweigh the benefit.
The Canadian Cancer Society, in their mailing, went on to celebrate genetic testing for women who may be more likely to have the BRCA genetic mutation (the breast cancer gene Angelina Jolie made famous with a preventative double mastectomy).
Here's what most cancer fundraisers and doctors don't mention:
The BRCA mutation has been present for generations. The gene hasn't changed. What has changed is the increased risk of cancer associated with it. In 1940, the incidence of breast cancer developing in women with the BRCA mutation was 24%. By 2013, the incidence was greater than 85%.
Additionally, this large European study in the British Medical Journal studied carriers of BRCA1/2 mutations, found that regular mammograms in women under 30 (which is often recommended for carriers of the gene) actually increase their risk of developing cancer. They recommend lower or non-radiation screening options.
Did you catch that? The gene has never changed. Our environment and lifestyle have. Where is the research on that?
Where Is Your Money Going?
The Canadian Cancer Research Institute Impact report states that in 2015, $38.1 million was put towards research. Out of that $38.1 million, $6.3 million (16.5%) went to prevention.
How did the total prevention research budget of $6.3 million get divvied up?
To start, 47% of it went to research tobacco. Tobacco. This isn't 1985. Why is nearly half of the money allocated to prevention research going to something we all know and accept causes cancer? Want to do something to help prevent cancer? Step 1: Don't smoke. Let's move along.
Of the $6.3 million set aside for prevention research, 16% ($1 million) went to diet and lifestyle and 12% ($756,000) went to environmental triggers, which may be the greatest contributing factor of all to overall rising cancer rates. Researchers already know that external factors are key in the progression of cancer, stating that anywhere from 70%-90% of cancers are associated with external factors and are preventable.
Note: When I state here and below that most cancers are preventable, please know that I am in no way blaming you or someone you love for not doing your best.
The greater issue in the external factors, beyond diet and lifestyle, are the chemicals and radiation we are exposed to every single day that are permitted by government regulators and product makers. We have a greater toxic load in our bodies than ever in the history of the human population. This needs to change and until there is funding for the research that clearly exhibits what so many independent researchers have already proven, research for pharmaceutical or surgical based cure is about as useful as mopping up that floor with a leaky bucket. The cure is in the cause.
Stay with me here for one final bit of math.
If we take those numbers back into the context of the whole research budget, let's see what is actually going towards the known key contributors to cancer. Of the total 2015 research budget of $38.1 million, only $1.76 million, or 5%, went towards diet, lifestyle and environmental factors. (This does not include the additional 7.7% allocated to tobacco research because, quite frankly, that more in 2015, money goes to tobacco research than environmental chemical triggers is just insane).
Only 5% of the 2015 research budget went towards diet, lifestyle and environmental factors, which are the keys to prevention and reducing cancer rates.
Of course we want a cure. We need a cure. But we also need to get sick less. We don't just need survivorship rates to increase, we also need cancer rates to decrease.
This was part of the letter I received asking me to hold a fundraiser.
In response to the request from the Canadian Cancer Society that I hold a bake sale, a pink desk decorating contest or pink maniCURE party in my office, I decided to call the Canadian Cancer Society to ask a few questions. No one responded to my call or my emails. Finally I sent this letter.
September 28th, 2016
I emailed you several weeks ago requesting an interview but did not receive a response. I also left a voicemail in response to a press release I received regarding an Oktober Feast fundraising initiative. I have not heard back from your organization. I plan to publish an article in October on the topic of fundraising for a cure.
I am a nutritionist and wellness activist based in Toronto, and also own and operate the Academy of Culinary Nutrition, where we empower our students to live and share a prevention lifestyle.
Since I was unable to speak with anyone, I thought perhaps it might be easier to put my questions into email which would allow you to respond that way. I recognize your responses will likely have to be cleared by your PR team and perhaps even legal council. If you can answer the questions that have been asked below, that would be greatly appreciated.
- In the letter you sent me, dated August 17th, 2016 you stated that in the last 20 years $136 million was raised for breast cancer research. How much of this has been allocated to researching potential causes, environmental triggers and prevention strategies?
- Does the Canadian Cancer Society find it at all disturbing or problematic that in-spite of raising $136 million, breast cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death?
- Could the death rate from breast cancer have anything to do with where the funding is going and perhaps a lack of attention to critical lifestyle and prevention factors?
What About A Bake Sale for Cancer?
You go on in your letter to suggest a few different fundraising ideas. The first was to host a bake sale.
I find it rather disturbing, that on the Canadian Cancer Society's own website, it states, "Over the past few years, there have been reports, e-mails and websites that say eating sugar feeds cancer or that sugar makes cancer grow faster. All cells in your body consume sugar as they grow and divide, but eating sugar does not make cancer cells grow faster.”
I have provided below a small sampling of evidence that shows how sugar directly contributes to cancer proliferation. This means that in fact, sugar does make cancer cells grow faster. The section on cancer on the CCS's website goes on to state that insulin increases can increase breast cancer risk. This demonstrates that as an organization, you are aware that eating foods with sugar increase insulin release. Stating that sugar does not make cancer cells grow faster is incredibly and dangerously misleading.
- Is the Canadian Cancer Society aware of the conclusive evidence linking sugar to increased risk of cancer and the detrimental affects sugar can have on someone who has cancer?
- Does the Canadian Cancer Society see any conflict in raising funds for research by encouraging people to sell and consume the very things that evidence shows increases the risk for the disease you are aiming to ‘cure’?
Does the Canadian Cancer Society see any conflict in raising funds for research by encouraging people to sell and consume the very things that evidence shows can increase the risk for the disease you are aiming to ‘cure’?
Here are some studies you may wish to refer to on this topic:
- This study dates all the way back to 1983, citing increased mortality in older women with breast cancer who consumed sugar. It states, "A possible connecting link between sugar consumption and breast cancer is insulin. This is an absolute requirement for the proliferation of normal mammary tissue and experimental mammary tumours may regress in its absence. Insulin secretion occurs in response to blood glucose level and could be excessive if the regulatory mechanism is overtaxed by large sugar intake. The same mechanism might account for the increased risk of mammary cancer in diabetics.”
Seely S, Horrobin DF. Diet and breast cancer: the possible connection with sugar consumption., Med Hypotheses. 1983 Jul;11(3):319-27.
- This study goes even further back, to 1976. It states: "people who live in areas that supply a rich diet of sugar, starches, and fats have a higher incidence of obesity and breast cancer than those people who have simple diets.” Hankin JH, Rawlings V.. Am J Clin Nutr. Diet and breast cancer: a review. 1978 Nov;31(11):2005-16.
- This study from 2006 found that “women in the highest tertile of intake of desserts (including biscuits, brioches, cakes, puffs and ice-cream) and sugars (including sugar, honey, jam, marmalade and chocolate) had multivariate ORs of 1.19 (95% CI 1.02-1.39) and 1.19 (95% CI 1.02-1.38), respectively… We found a direct association between breast cancer risk and consumption of sweet foods with high glycemic index and load, which increase insulin and insulin growth factors.” Tavani A1, Giordano L, Gallus S, Talamini R, Franceschi S, Giacosa A, Montella M, La Vecchia C., Consumption of sweet foods and breast cancer risk in Italy. 2006 Feb;17(2):341-5. Epub 2005 Oct 25.
There are of course loads more studies available linking sugar to breast cancer, and loads of other common cancers.
How About Manicures For A Cure?
I’d like to also mention your recommendation to offer a “Pink Manicure Party” in my office. [We actually have a no fragrance policy, let alone nail polish!]. Again, this seemed like a peculiar recommendation for a cancer fundraiser.
The effects of cosmetic products has become widely studied in recent years for the unsafe levels of known and/or probably carcinogens. Evidence continues to surface showing direct increase in many forms of cancer for cosmetologists, due to the exposure of various chemicals in their polishes and dyes.
Is the Canadian Cancer Society aware of the link between conventional cosmetic use and increased risk of cancer?
You can learn more about the risks in this report from the Environmental Working Group.
TPHP In Your Nail Polish
"Two to six hours after they painted their nails, 24 of the 26 volunteers in the study had slightly elevated levels of DPHP in their urine. Ten to 14 hours after polishing their nails, the DPHP levels in all 26 participants had risen by an average of nearly sevenfold, suggesting that more of the TPHP had entered their bodies and been metabolized into DPHP."
TPHP is a suspected endocrine-disrupting chemical also used in plastics manufacturing and as a fire retardant in foam furniture.
I won’t get into your food/nutrition section which, like most of the advice on your website, is not referenced and doesn’t seem to be founded on any research. As it turns out, beyond weight management, there are in fact specific foods that are cancer preventative. If there is an interested party, I would be happy to discuss further.
I recognize the support you offer to cancer sufferers and their families and my questions above are not intended to diminish that. I simply find it incredibly disheartening how little information or inspiration you offer women and their families that can empower them beyond early detection. There is much that can be done for prevention and for health that would enable them, should they be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, go into it stronger and come out the other side with the resiliency to reclaim their health.
The survival rates you share on your promotional materials is inspiring, but how can we work together to bring down the rate of women who develop cancer in the first place? This is where your organization, like so many others, falls very, very short.
I can be reached at your convenience by email or by phone.
In great health,
Are We Being Given Accurate Information?
What's most disturbing here is that on the patient information section of the Canadian Cancer Society website, they are stating their guidelines as fact when they are not. Misguiding people on how they can take action to prevent cancer, or support their healing should they be diagnosed, is where the greatest disservice occurs.
Here are a few examples from the Canadian Cancer Society Website's Cancer Myths and Controversies page:
Cancer and BPA
Canadian Cancer Society says:
"You may have seen e-mails or websites that say disposable plastic water bottles cause cancer if they're frozen, or left in the car and exposed to heat. These rumours are not true." And on the same topic, "The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has reviewed the evidence and wasn’t able to determine whether exposure to BPA does or does not cause cancer in humans."
- Health risk of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA): "BPA has been shown to play a role in the pathogenesis of several endocrine disorders including female and male infertility, precocious puberty, hormone dependent tumours such as breast and prostate cancer and several metabolic disorders including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)."
- Bisphenol A induces gene expression changes and proliferative effects through GPER in breast cancer cells and cancer-associated fibroblasts.
- BPA exposure in pregnant woman increases risk of breast cancer in fetus: "Exposure of the fetus to excess estrogen is believed to increase the risk of developing breast cancer during adult life."
- Bisphenol A and Hormone-Associated Cancers: Current Progress and Perspectives: "BPA can mimic estrogen to interact with estrogen receptors α and β, leading to changes in cell proliferation, apoptosis, or migration and thereby, contributing to cancer development and progression."
Note: I don't expect all of this to make sense, but in the quote above taken directly from the study it clearly states that BPA can mimic estrogen which contributes to cancer development. Way up at the start of this post, I mentioned the new drug developed and marketed as a preventative measure that blocks estrogen production. And yet, the Canadian Cancer Society denies a correlation between BPA and cancer, and instead continues passing out plastic bottles of water, one of our leading sources of exposure to BPA, at their fundraising events.
The evidence on this one is strong and that there is no mention of the risk by the Canadian Cancer Society is rather appalling. View an extensive resource of studies here.
Cancer and Food Additives
The Canadian Cancer Society Says:
"Food additives are chemicals that help preserve, colour and flavour our food. It is very unlikely that food additives cause cancer."
There are loads of additives that we can explore - food colourings, flavourings, artificial sweeteners and other preservatives. I chose a little buffet of additives for you.
- Sucralose administered in feed, beginning prenatally through lifespan, induces hematopoietic neoplasias in male swiss mice: "These findings do not support previous data that sucralose is biologically inert. More studies are necessary to show the safety of sucralose, including new and more adequate carcinogenic bioassay on rats. Considering that millions of people are likely exposed, follow-up studies are urgent."
- DIET AND NUTRITION: The Artificial Food Dye Blues: "Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 contain benzidene, a human and animal carcinogen permitted in low, presumably safe levels in dyes. The FDA calculated in 1985 that ingestion of free benzidine raises the cancer risk to just under the “concern” threshold (1 cancer in 1 million people). Bound benzidene also has been detected in dyes in much greater amounts than free benzidene, but routine FDA tests measure only free contaminants, overlooking the bound moiety. Intestinal enzymes release bound benzidene, “so we could be exposed to vastly greater amounts of carcinogens than FDA’s routine tests indicate,” says Jacobson—especially considering today’s children are exposed to multiple dyes and flavoring agents and other added chemicals in foods."
- Enhanced tumour development by butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) in the liver, lung and gastro-intestinal tract. BHT is an additive often listed in breakfast cereals, chips and crackers. It keeps them crisp. It an also be a proponent of cancer.
Cancer and Tampons
The Canadian Cancer Society Says:
"In the last few years, you may have seen e-mails about asbestos and dioxins in tampons made in the United States. Scientific evidence shows that these rumours are not true.
These emails incorrectly say that:
- Tampon manufacturers add asbestos to their products to cause excessive menstrual bleeding in order to sell more tampons.
- The tampon industry believes women need bleached white products in order to view the products as pure and clean - and that bleaching leads to toxic amounts of the chemical dioxin in tampons.
- Dr B.S. Katzenellenbogen, Professor of Molecular & Integrative Physiology, Cell & Structural Biology, supports these claims.
However, there is no evidence to support any of these claims."
In my research, I have never seen anything about asbestos in tampons. Dioxin however? Here is loads of evidence about the health implications of conventional tampons.
The Canadian Cancer Society goes on to question whether there is concerning health implications of Teflon, Cell Phones/Wifi in children, and Pesticides to name a few. They also state that more research is needed on phthalates to understand their effect on humans.
I suppose the main issue is really one of opinion. They take the route that if it hasn't been proven to directly cause cancer it is still okay. I am more often inclined to go with "when in doubt get it out". If 70%-90% of cancer is preventable through diet, lifestyle and environmental factors, why not reduce or eliminate the chemicals that we can? Where is the discussion of the cumulative effects of these risk factors? Where are the recommendations of alternate choices for consumers so they can actually be armed and empowered to work towards prevention?
I was delighted to see an initiate by the Canadian Cancer Society for a Sugar-Free September. Unfortunately, I didn't actually stumble across this myself (there were no links from the main Cancer.ca website) but only learned about it through their response to my letter. I am all for cancer fundraisers that actually support positive action. I don't know why I wasn't on that mailing list, but to follow up such a positive initiative with a push for bake sales seems a little contradictory.
What Can You Do?
We need research to continue and we need to continue raising funds to support it. But we also have choices to make.
- Know your options: If we get sick, we get to choose from a wide range of tools, practitioners and treatment options and how we want to proceed. This must remain our right. Understanding those options is important. The organizations that raise the most money doesn't automatically make them the best resource. The same may go for your doctor. They know and believe in what what they know and practice, but there may also be a lot that they don't know and cannot practice.
- Ask questions: We can ask the organizations that have supported us or those we love, how their money is being spent. Look at their annual financial statements, understand them and ask questions. Make sure funds are being allocated in the ways that matter to you, your future and your family.
- Support what matter to you: Choose new or different organizations that may be more in line with your experience, knowledge, beliefs and values. I've included some organizations below that may be of interest.
- Be proactive: Take an active role in staying healthy. Prevention is hard because it requires you, and you alone, to take action. I've provided some resources below that may help.
- Demand Change: We need our government and favourite brands to stop allowing untested and unproven chemicals, or chemical combinations to be permitted in products, foods, clothing and the environment. There's a common label put on most chemicals- GRAS, or generally regarded as safe. This goes with the argument that it's the dose that makes the poison. The problem is that the combined dose that we are exposed to through everyday living has never been tested.
Prevention Organizations and Resources
- Think Before You Pink
- Breast Cancer Action
- European Cancer Prevention
Please Keep Giving and Supporting
I would never want to discourage you to give to a cause that is important to you. I do believe, however, that if we are going to support these organizations, then it is their duty to provide truthful, honest and evidence-based recommendations, rather than side step important topics for fear of losing sponsorship support or making their fundraisers feel in any way responsible for their health.
You are responsible for your health.
No one deserves sickness or loss. And there is never a guarantee that our efforts give us immunity to hardships or disease. But we should at least be able to make the choices we make, to live how we want to live, with truthful information freely and widely available. Currently, this is not the case.
The people with cancer, or the people who are told that genetically they are at a higher risk, are the people that turn to organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society or the American counterpart looking for support, guidance and answers. What has been keeping me up at night while working on this piece is how inaccurate the information is that is being provided. Women who are survivors, or who have moms and sisters and daughters who are, or those who have lost someone, are putting their heart and soul and tears into their fundraising efforts and aren't getting what they are due in return.
What if the best cure we're ever going to get is prevention?
There has never been a one size fits all cure for anything and just like that, there is no one size fits all prevention strategy either. But what if there are things you and I can start doing today that can help? What if the best cure we're ever going to get is not getting cancer in the first place?