Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"An ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure"

So says Dr. Joseph Ragaz, director of the Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada and a senior medical oncologist and clinical professor at the University of British Columbia. He also says if known prevention strategies such as improved diets and increased exercise were used more widely in Canada, several thousand breast cancers could be prevented each year.

Today, the Cancer Advocacy Coalition released its annual report.  And it is calling for something I am very passionate about - a new emphasis on cancer prevention. Until there is a cure, I believe we should be doing more to educate people on how to lower their risk for developing cancer. While we need to continue research with the aim of finding new and better treatments and, one hopes, a cure, more space must be made in the cancer dialogue for talk of prevention.

But something goes unsaid in the report. In the comment thread, a reader raises a valid concern: where is the criticism of the many corporations who continue to expose us to carcinogens in our cleaning supplies, personal care products, food, water and air? Where is the criticism of the governments who fail to regulate them? I have to say, the absence of this part of the equation was shocking. Surely, decreasing the presence of carcinogens in the things we touch and consume should be near the top of the list for cancer prevention. 

The reader goes on to accuse the report writers of once again "blaming the victim." But, while I understand the anger behind the statement, I don't see it that way. I see no blame in this report. I don't feel that the report writers are holding me responsible for my tumour. Instead, I see a call to arms to take back the power we have handed over to others. While we wait for a cure, we can educate ourselves on better lifestyle choices. While we wait for the development of less devastating treatments, we can educate ourselves on better dietary choices. [And, might I add, while we wait for the implementation of stricter manufacturing regulations, we can educate ourselves on how to select less toxic products.] The absence of an official request for the Canadian government to hold the corporate world accountable should be noted - and noted loudly. But its absence does not discredit the very good advice to educate ourselves on what we can do to help ourselves and those we love.

I do appreciate the anger this person's letter expresses. I am angry, too. I am angry that profit comes before the public's health. I am angry that more politicians don't care about this issue as much as I, and this reader, do. Let's channel that anger and use it to make some real change. And while we gather momentum at the grassroots, national and international levels, let's also make some smarter choices in our homes.


  1. Cyn,
    You raise some good points here, but I still get nervous when blanket statements about preventing cancer are made. Mine was caused by genetics and many people of all ages also still get cancer despite a healthy lifestyle. Something seems to be missing here. I agree with you, the government should be doing more to make the environment and products we use on a daily basis safer. It doesn't seem like they are quite doing their part does it?

  2. Hi Nancy,

    Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate your perspective here! I don't like blanket statements either and, if I made one here, that was in error and I am sorry. I believe we have miles to go on research into prevention and the cure. And I certainly don't believe that eating better and exercising more are where we should stop in our fight.

    Prevention is, however, an important part of the dialogue for me. I needed someone on my cancer treatment team to be an advocate for how I could take a more active role in my future health. I guess I am trying to be that advocate for other women, especially those who are feeling as helpless as I once did. And I hope that includes women with the genetic connection as well.

    Thanks for helping me out! We'll fix the world yet. :-)