The Coastal Post - November, 1997

Marin No Longer No. 1 For Breast Cancer


Marin County is still special, even though it's dropped from number one position to number three. No, not median income or ownership of sports utility vehicles.

Breast Cancer rates in Marin are no longer the highest in the nation; we've been edged out by counties in New York, but our rate is still 11% higher than the rest of the country.

White women in the Bay Area have the world's highest breast cancer rate, 104 cases per 100,000. Marin has more older, wealthier white women with better insurance, more likely to be diagnosed than any other population. Black women die twice as fast when diagnosed.

Breast cancer is not the leading killer of women in Marin or the nation, although 40% of women believe it is. Heart disease is the cause of 35% of female deaths, while breast cancer accounts for only 4%. The lifetime risk for all cancer is one in three for women, one in two for men, and 23% of women's deaths are from cancer.

This distorted fear of breast cancer is partially the media's fault; we love to have breasts in the headlines, if not on page three. Tits sell and cutting off breasts is also profitable. Women are being trained to fear their breasts as if they were alien entities with evil intent, but don't worry, doctors can cut them off.

The truth about cancers is they are not demons or the judgement of God but a symptom of immune system breakdown. Our immune system is capable of recycling or excreting damaged cell structures unless it is weakened by many factors.

Some of those are lifestyle choices, nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins, psycho-physical habits, socio-economic levels, geographic location and microbial agents. While thousands are marching for The Cure, it's hard to draw a crowd around prevention goals.

One exception was the showing of the movie Rachel's Daughters about six women with breast cancer, exposing some of the causes. It played at the Mill Valley Film Festival to a packed house. The woman I sat down next to thought it was brave for a man to show up alone, but I have almost a dozen women friends under 50 who've been diagnosed with breast cancer in Marin.

The film was named in honor of Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, which led to the banning of DDT use in America. It is still made in the U.S. and comes back to us in food imports. The women, one of whom died during the making of the movie, interviewed dozens of scientists and investigators about the causes of breast cancer.

The "known risk factors" for breast cancer are early menstruation, late menopause, child-bearing after age 35 or no child-bearing, and not breast-feeding, which are all related to lifetime estrogen hormone levels. A high fat diet and alcohol use have also been linked with breast cancer.

They don't cause breast cancer, but make women more vulnerable to its development when exposed to toxins. Even so, these risk factors are associated with less than 40% of all breast cancers.

The tendency of humans to blame sick people for their own illnesses leads to lifestyle scape-goating of the sick, calming the fears of the well. We are shaped by social pressures to "choose" certain diets, behaviors, and psychological attitudes. Environmental pollution is part of the constellation of factors which cause illness and fighting this reduces the demonization of the sick.

Rachel's Daughters focused on the environmental assault on our health, emphasizing that breast cancer must be seen as part of the rising incidence of cancer.

Too cheap to meter

Ionizing radiation is a known cause of breast cancer and all cancers from whatever source-x-rays, mammographies and other radiological medical procedures, nuclear fallout from weapons testing, space launches, power plants, the sun and flying closer to it.

The medical establishment has loved radiation in this century both as diagnostic tool and therapeutic method. Infants were routinely bombarded with x-rays to reduce the size of their thymus glands in the '40s. Even shoe stores had x-rays at the peak of the skeletal viewing craze, while the government was bombing us regularly with open air nuclear explosions. They notified Kodak, but not the 75,000 estimated victims who developed thyroid cancers.

Plutonium was first created in the Bay Area, and Livermore Lab is still spewing radioactive tritium into the air and water. All radiation damage is cumulative. Radiation destroys cellular structure with "free radicals," pipe bombing anarchists in our DNA. Anti-oxidants like vitamins C, A and E, selenium, bioflavonoids and cannabinoids reduce the cellular damage from these radicals. Several studies have shown they reduce deaths from cancer when used synergistically.

Turn up the blanket

Electromagnetic fields have been linked with cancers, including breast cancers in male electrical workers and telephone linesman. This low frequency radiation includes microwaves, radio waves, radar, cellular phones, and electrical generators, powerlines and appliances.

We are exposed to EMF's every day. Maximizing separation from the sources is critical, since the strength of the field drops rapidly with distance.

Better living through chemistry

Pesticides and other chemicals have proliferated since WWII with more than six million man-made compounds released into the environment. Less than 1,000 have been tested for carcinogenic potential, and only recently have synergistic effects been studied. Even in this ignorance, it's clear that a plague of locusts does less damage to human health than the long-term effects of this poisoning.

Many of these chemicals mimic human hormones, especially estrogen, and are called endocrine disrupting chemicals. Some of the most toxic are dioxins, DDT, PCBs, chlorofluorocarbons and PVC plastics. This plastic can be identified by a #3 or V recycling code and does leach into water or food, while many cans are lined with another plastic endocrine disrupter. Organochlorine insecticides have been linked to breast and bladder cancer and childhood leukemia.

In 1978 Israel banned many toxic chemicals including PCBs and DDT because of citizen demand after a study linked them with breast cancer. Over the next 10 years, breast cancer rates for women under 44 dropped by 30% with an 8% overall decline, while world rates went up by 4%.

Health Care Without Harm was formed at Commonweal Institute in Bolinas in 1996. They are working to stop the medical incineration of PVC plastics which releases dioxin, a potent carcinogen. Marin Breast Cancer Watch is calling for an immediate ban on the most toxic pesticides and banning the Class II chemicals by 1999 in Marin. You can support them by faxing your Supervisor at 499-3645 in favor of reducing these chemicals on county land and buildings.

Lawns and gardens are major sources of pesticide and herbicide contamination, and wealthier communities use more of these toxins than lower income neighborhoods. Marin has more dry cleaners but fewer chemical plants.

She's a modern woman

The increasing use of hormonal contraceptives by younger women and hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women have been matched by an increase in breast cancer. The most widely prescribed drug in America is Premarin, a hormone replacement drug. Marin has a higher than average use of hormonal pharmaceuticals.

Marin has a number of culprits for what's causing our high rate of breast cancer. It's likely that they are all contributing, from radioactive dumps near the Farallones to military radar on Mt. Tam to consumer lifestyles of the rich and famous.

The Definitive Guide to Cancer by Doctors John Diamond and Lee Cowden has information on how to prevent cancer, treating cancer with alternative medicine and how the cancer industry protects its income.

Working together on reducing environmental pollution is imperative, but slow and difficult to achieve. There are no guarantees in life except death. Besides wearing seatbelts, avoiding gunplay and hard drug use, the most important measures to prevent cancers and heart disease is to eat more organic fruits, vegetables and grains, reduce fat consumption, exercise moderately and regularly, avoid known risk factors already recited as well as cigarette smoking, exposure to heavy traffic or its fuel products, heavy alcohol binges, charred flesh and yellow snow.

There may be a cancer susceptible personality. People who bear their burdens without complaint or acknowledgement, the caring introverts who internalize their concerns and problems may be more likely to die from cancer.

Becoming active politically to reduce exposure to toxins, letting your voice be heard is claiming your health.

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