Daily News Archive
From May 31, 2001

New Book Examines True Causes of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer kills 46,000 women in the U.S. each year. On average, each of these women has her life cut short by 20 years, for a total loss of about a million person-years of productive life each year. Of course this huge cost to society is heaped on even greater burdens, the personal anguish and suffering, the motherless children, the shattered families. The medical establishment dominated by male doctors pretends that the breast cancer epidemic will one day be reversed by some miracle cure, which we have now been promised for 50 years. Until that miracle arrives, we are told, there is nothing to be done except slice off women's breasts, pump their bodies full of toxic chemicals to kill cancer cells, burn them with radiation, and bury our dead.

Meanwhile, the normal public health approach primary prevention languishes without mention and without funding. We know what causes the vast majority of cancers: exposure to carcinogens. What would a normal public health approach entail? Reduce the burden of cancer by reducing our exposure to carcinogens. One key idea has defined public health for more than 100 years: PREVENTION. But with cancer, everything is different. In the case of cancer, prevention has been banished from polite discussion.

A new book, by physician Janette D. Sherman, poses a fundamental challenge to all the doctors and researchers and health bureaucrats who have turned their backs on cancer prevention: "If cancers are not caused by chemicals, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and ionizing radiation, what are the causes? How else can one explain the doubling, since 1940, of a woman's likelihood of developing breast cancer, increasing in tandem with prostate and childhood cancers?," Dr. Sherman asks. And if exposures are the problem, then ending exposures is the solution: "Actual prevention means eliminating factors that cause cancer in the first place."

The book begins with two chapters emphasizing the similarities among all living things that are made up of cells including humans, animals and plants. Cells in every creature can go awry and start to grow uncontrollably, a definition of cancer. Turning to breast cancer, Dr. Sherman lists the known "risk factors" the common characteristics shared by many women who get breast cancer: early menarche (age at which menstruation begins); late menopause (age at which menstruation ends); late childbirth and the birth of few or no children; no experience breast-feeding; obesity; high fat diet; being tall; having cancer of the ovaries or uterus; use of oral contraceptives; excessive use of alcohol. "What is the message running through all of these 'risks?'" Dr. Sherman asks. "Hormones, hormones, and hormones. Hormones of the wrong kind, hormones too soon in a girl's life, hormones for too many years in a woman's life, too many chemicals with hormonal action, and too great a total hormonal load."

Dr. Sherman then turns her focus to the one fully-established cause of breast (and other) cancers: ionizing radiation, from x-rays, and from nuclear power plant emissions and the radioactive fallout from A-bomb tests. These, then, are the environmental factors that give rise to breast cancer: exposures to cancer-causing chemicals, to hormonally-active chemicals, and to ionizing radiation in air, food and water. How do we know the environment air, food, water and ionizing radiation plays an important role in causing breast cancer? Because when Asian women move from their homelands to the U.S., their breast cancer rate soars. There is something in the environment of the U.S. (and other western industrial countries) causing an epidemic of this hormone-related disease. The medical research establishment likes to call it "lifestyle factors" but it's really environment.