• Why is cancer so prevalent now?

    Asked by alivenwell on Sunday, February 24, 2013

    Why is cancer so prevalent now?

    It seems like cancer has taken almost every kind of form now. Obviously smoking in the past is now viewed as a bad habit. Any other ideas come to mind like accuracy of diagnosis, artificial sweeteners, air pollution, water pollution, etc?

    6 Answers from the Community

    6 answers
    • AlizaMLS's Avatar

      Dear Alivenwell,

      I'll try to answer your question to the best of my ability given my background. I'm a trained Medical Librarian and without researching your question for hours (which is what one could do with such a question) I'll give you my best immediate thoughts (not really guesses) on the subject.

      1. When you say "now", you don't clarify what you mean by "now". Does "now" mean within the last 10 years, 50 years or 100 years? I'll try to answer for all...

      a) People are living longer lives as we've discovered vaccines for illnesses that used to kill (i.e., polio, whooping cough) and antibiotics (people don't usually die from syphilis anymore, nor do they have to take arsenic to recover such as Isak Dinesen did [the author of "Out of Africa"]). When people live longer lives, it offers cells more of a chance to mutate. When cells mutate, you have Cancer...

      b) Yes, further "industrialization" or what I'd like to refer to as the "Monsanto" effect comes into play-we have more pollution, we have artificial sweeteners, we have Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies (which are delicious) but their Milanos are sometimes made with cottonseed oil - check out the bag!! (cotton is not grown as a food crop and so non-food pesticides can be sprayed on it even though the oil can be used in these cookies and other things [I called PF about this a few years ago and they hung up on me]). Guess, no more Milanos for me!!...;) There's mercury in the tuna fish, there's mercuty in our (old) dental fillings, etc., etc., and so forth...

      c) The Information Superhighway...Yup, what we're on right now...the Internet, the worldwide web, The NY Times online, Facebook, etc. News is immediately posted and croses the country and the world in a matter of seconds to minutes. Therefore we (all) know about more cancer than we ever could have known about without the existence of the internet if only we had books, newspapers and journals.

      2) I believe that Caesar Rodney, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence had Cancer. I'm not sure which colony he was from (Rhode Island?), but given the fact that the birthrate has increased incrementally the way it has, I wonder how much higher per capita the cancer rates are given all of the above factors.

      3) By the way, in case everyone thinks that eating and drinking everything untainted and off the land is safest, let me assure you that it's not (underline not) the case - please remember that unpasteurized raw milk from a cow that is tainted can cause a person to become ill with TB, and that drinking delicious apple cider that you can purchase from a farm stand (as opposed to pasteurized apple juice or pasteurized apple cider) can cause someone who's immunocompromised to become extremely ill and possibly die (the apples that are used in cider are often those that are no good for eating and could have fallen in a field that has cow manure in it).

      I could go on about cancer and rates of other diseases which have risen and fallen as a result of further industrialization or modes of transportation, etc., but I think you see where I'm going here. I think this is a good place for me to stop and hope that some of the medical professionals in the community especially would join in this discussion-anyone else as well!

      Thanks for choosing such an interesting and thought provoking question. Sorry if I made eating Milanos not so much fun!! Moosewood cookbook has a great brownies recipe!...;)

      Warm Wishes,

      over 3 years ago
    • carm's Avatar

      As usual Aliza gives a great answer and just to add to it, diagnostic tools have advanced so much that a lesion that was discovered to ge the size of a grapefruit in the 50s can now be detected as small as the size of a grain of rice with scans so more cases are now discovered. Also many pseudo-diseases are included in the count. I think this also has an impact on the data. In my youth I never knew anyone with breast cancer. Now, its hard to find someone who doesn't know a BC victim. These are things I think that contribute to the prevalence, Carm RN.

      over 3 years ago
    • nancyjac's Avatar

      I think there are several reasons:

      1. People are living longer. Everybody will eventually get some sort of cancer if they live long enough.

      2. Advancements in technology have improved the ability to diagnose more precisely and at a much better tolerance level, meaning smaller groups or scattered cancer cells can be detected than use to be.

      3. Societal trade offs. We have accepted the possibility/probability of environmental factors that can cause gene mutations that lead to cancer because of the benefits of those trade offs (medications, genetic engineering, technological conveniences, etc.

      4. Cancer has come out of the closet and there is more awareness, not necessarily more instances of the disease. The ability to track statistics across the planet has vastly improved to technological advances in communications.

      over 3 years ago
    • SueRae1's Avatar

      My take - people are more willing to admit that they have cancer and are being treated. More accurate reporting of cancer and cancer clusters. Environmental issues (super fund sites, 9/11, etc). People are living longer - the longer you live the more likely you are to develop cancer also better survival rates for many cancers have gone dramatically up in the last several decades, which means there are more people alive that have been touched my cancer.

      over 3 years ago
    • AlizaMLS's Avatar

      Dear Alivenwell,

      I put your question in "batch" mode (i.e., slept on it) so I have a few more things to add to my original reply to you. Btw, I didn't even touch on whether Al Gore invented the Internet but we'll have to worry about that another time...;)

      Too add to my list-

      4) The American Diet - Obesity. We supersize everything. We eat deep fried foods. We eat too much red meat and fat and we eat till we're bursting plus we eat too much sugar. Diseases result from this such as Diabetes, Heart Disease, Stroke, and Cancer. See the film "Supersize That" or the book "Fast Food Nation".

      5) An increased knowledge of Genetics - we're aware that certain cancers are passed through families and certain ethnics groups, i,.e., Ashkenazi Jews are at risk for both breast and colon cancer. Why? No one knows (as far as I'm aware). Though because there's a large prevalence of colon cancer in my family and a good deal of my family are Ashkenazi Jews (part are Sefardic Jews). I think that the original diet prevalent in Eastern European countries, i.e., Russia, Romania, etc. of cured meats (nitrates, nitrites [which are now thought to be carcinogens]) definitely play a role (there have been studies re children who eat many hot dogs having a higher incidence of leukemia and I don't think that study was restricted to the Jewish community) as opposed strictly to genes. Just a thought. Why breast cancer-who knows?! I'm the only one in my family with that!

      6) Someone mentioned in their response that people are being more frank about having cancer. This too may be a possibility. The cancer rates in my own family are astounding. I'm used to and aware of the medical history of great aunts and great uncles whom I never met because my grandparents were open and frank about them having leukemia and liver cancer back in 1910 and 1915. Cancer never seemed to be secret though the word was whispered with fear. I don't know if this was a problem for other families. I do think however that cancer never was that highly publicized in the general media until in the early 1960's when "Life Magazine" published photos and a story about the links between smoking and lung cancer.

      7 - Someone on the forum has suggested that if people live long enough they will get cancer. This is simply not true. My mother died a year and a half ago at age 84 from a cerebral hemorrage brought on by a dementia. My maternal grandmother (died at 92) from CHF and my paternal grandfather died (age 94) from CHF. My maternal grandfather (died age 71) from colon cancer that metastasized to the liver and my maternal grandmother died (age 72) died from a Cerebral Hemorrhage. My late father (age 86) died from CLL. My Great Uncle, age 90, died from Emphysema (2nd hand smoke) from his wife (she chain smoked and died from lung cancer [I don't recall how old my great aunt was at the time]). Not everyone dies from Cancer if they live to a ripe old age. It varies. But the cancer statistics can be daunting - 1 in 8 women (yesterday I heard them quoted on tv as 1 in 7) will suffer from breast cancer and 1 in 3 men will suffer from prostate cancer. Everyone has to die from something. Chocolate is not a cause of death unless eaten to excess...;)

      8 - You mention accuracy of diagnosis. That's almost too easy because of technological advances in medicine within the last 100, 50 and even 10 years re blood tests, imaging, etc. Medical Specialization itself (breast surgeon vs. general surgeon. Radiation oncologists, hematologist/oncologists, etc) make diagnosis more specialized and accurate via the fact that they can concentrate on a specific topic in medicine without distraction. I can't offer you statistics bearing to improvements in accuracy as compared from a century ago to the present, but suffice it to say that I'm sure that someone who has Stage I invasive breast cancer (my type) is going to live longer now than they would have 100 years ago due to the above. (i.e., they were able to remove all my cancer and find out through genetic testing, "Oncotype" that I don't need chemotherapy [I have an excellent chance for non-reoccurrence], something that wouldn't have been possible even 10 years ago, I believe).

      9 - We all want reasons and we all want answers. Just because I'm a Medical Librarian and someone else is an Oncological Nurse or a physician doesn't make us different that way. Sometimes it's worse for us because we (or I should say me) research these things into a corner and ultimately there's no (one) answer...yet. I may have given you a good answer and I certainly hope you think I have, but it's not going to satisfy me as to why I ultimately got BC (and I don't think even if you nominate me I'll be invited to Oslo for a Nobel prize...;))

      10 - I mentioned my Dad died from CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia). At the time, my brother who's a tougher guy in some ways than I (and who has a science background) was reading a book I wanted to read about Cancer, but I couldn't cope with reading it then, so I shelved it figuratively for a better time (after Dad passed). Then my Mom got sick immediately afterward (with Lewy Body Dementia). While she was ill, I had surgery for PVNS, a rare form of bone cancer which was benign, but for which I have to be checked each year because there's a 50% reoccurrence rate. Last year I was diagnosed with BC and it wasn't benign. I had my mastectomy in Dec, the remainder of my reconstruction's scheduled for April (good reminder to get my taxes done) and I'm now ready to read this book which my brother highly recommended. It's called "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I haven't yet looked at it but it may answer some of your questions even better than I can!...;)

      Wishing you comfort, peace, joy and health,

      over 3 years ago
    • ddkk3's Avatar

      Aliza, I love your answers!

      I just wanted to add in that I was thinking this very question the other day. I never knew anyone with any type of cancer until I was diagnosed myself and now I even know one other person. Whatever the answer is, I really hope we will know more and I will find out why I got cancer before I die.

      over 3 years ago

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