Saturday, April 29, 2006

What? - I agree with Wente??

This almost never happens. Margaret Wente is a columnist at the Globe and Mail who usually gets me all riled up with her Saturday columns. But today... I find myself agreeing with her.

She wrote about Wendy Mesley's recent TV show - where Wendy, a breast cancer survivor, talked about how there's a cancer epidemic and blamed it entirely on all the chemicals we are exposed to through products we buy or industrial emissions. I saw the show and it made me mad too.

The problem was, she really misrepresented the facts. Sure, the absolute numbers of cancer cases are going up in Canada - quite a bit. But so is the number of older people. And cancer usually happens to older people. If you look at cancer rates over the past years - they have actually been pretty stable, and some of the rates for specific cancers have actually decreased.

I'm willing to buy the argument that being exposed to more chemicals and mixtures of chemicals probably doesn't exactly benefit our health. But many chemicals we worry about are also produced in nature. How can we avoid those? And some of the doses we're exposed to are so very small - they are unlikely to pose much risk.

In any case, it is certainly not possible to say that most cancer cases today are due to environmental exposures. Some clear risk factors for cancer (like smoking, and even eating enough vegetables and getting exercise) are a result of personal choices that people make.

We all take risks on a daily basis - and we are so often much more willing to accept even a high risk if we percieve it as having been our choice. So - while it is often worthwhile to try and reduce risks that are beyond our control, in this case it was out of proportion to blame "cancer in today's world" entirely on environmental exposures.

1 comment:

Caroline said...

I agree completely, of course. The only real service that the show did was to raise awareness that cancer prevention is not getting enough money (vs. treatment).