Some thoughts on cancer

The war on cancer was declared 42 years ago. By President Nixon.

When I  look around, the war is still underway. Three people in our town have recently died or will shortly. A family member of mine recently opted for a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

There has been progress but the war is still on, mostly focused on finding a cure.

As someone who’s not in the field of cancer research I’m left wondering about a few things.

Why isn’t more effort put into prevention? I can think of a few reasons that prevention research is less pursued.

Most Americans don’t want to alter their lifestyle. It’d be a hard sell suggesting less alcohol, eating less industrially produced food, maintaining a healthy weight and so on. People don’t want to have skin in the game, they’d rather dump their problems in the lap of their doctor.

Plus, people are a little wary because the recommendations for what’s healthy gets reversed sometimes, like eating low-fat, undermining  the public’s faith in what they’re told.

Prevention is low-tech. Most of the money, prestige, and awards go to researchers at medical centers where the focus is high-tech. Alcohol consumption, smoking, diet, chemical exposure are low-tech and low profit too – not much research interest.

But think about this. The US tops the rest of the world in (age-adjusted) breast cancer rates with incidences of around 120 per 100,000 women. Compare this to just 20-30 per 100,000 in poorer countries. It implies to me that lifestyle and/or environment probably deserve some more attention.

Women who’ve done shift work for thirty years have a correlation with breast cancer. Is it the disruption to sleep that’s a problem? Profoundly blind women have half as much breast cancer as sighted women. There’ve been suggestions that modern life with more light at night and exposure to computer light too at night might interfere with hormones like melatonin or resetting others.

Poorer women have more pregnancies and breast feed for longer meaning they have fewer menstrual cycles during their lives. So generally women in the US have more periods during their lives exposing them to more hormones than women in less developed countries are exposed to.

I don’t know what the answer is, but there’s room for improvement and it seems like, as unsexy as it is, preventing cancer is important too.