Editorial: Better Strategies for Battling Cancer: The Direct Approach
Fifty years ago, Rube Goldberg delighted readers with absurd cartoon solutions to simple problems. To turn on a light, for example, a man pulls a string that turns on a fan that blows a feather that makes a cat jump, only to land on a rake that falls over and trips the light switch.
The U.S. government has regrettably taken a Goldbergesque approach to environmental health problems. Concerned that chemical pollutants could enter animals' or humans' bodies, disrupting body processes and increasing cancer risk, the Environmental Protection Agency has decided—not to check whether humans are exposed to or to restrict the use of these chemicals—but rather to test 80,000 chemicals to see if they affect animal fertility. The program is called the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program. It's based on the notion that if a chemical affects animal fertility, it might affect animal hormones, and if it affects their hormones, it might affect their cancer risk, and if it affects animals' cancer risk, maybe it could affect humans.
Cartesian Technologies' PixSys 4200 Workstation is one example of high throughput screen hardware.
There is a more direct approach. It is possible to quickly test chemicals for their hormonal effects without bothering with animals at all. The high throughput screen is an automated test system with an extraordinary capability that allows a large number of chemicals to be evaluated over a short time. Other nonanimal methods have proven their ability to check for dangerous hormonal and cancer-promoting effects, and are quicker and cheaper than animal tests. For example, chemicals can be tested for their effect on the growth of MCF-7 human breast cancer cells in the test tube. Yeast cells can be combined with human hormone receptors, and the effect of environmental chemicals, if any, can be measured. Computerized analyses can demonstrate the structure of chemical molecules in order to predict the damage they could cause in humans.
Equally importantly, we are pushing for a totally different approach to cancer. The biggest contributor to human cancers is diet. In addition to the unwanted chemicals that meat, dairy products, and other foods usher into our bodies, the load of fat they bring disrupts our hormone balance. In this case, the problem is not so much the estrogens in dairy products or the hormone treatments used to fatten cattle. Rather, the problem is that fat itself—chicken fat, beef fat, fish fat, and fryer grease—stimulates hormone production.
PCRM's Cancer Project addresses this problem with practical information on using foods to fight cancer, using public service advertisements on television and radio and in print, a newly redesigned Web site (www.CancerProject.org), and an arsenal of printed materials. In this issue of Good Medicine, we also focus on the personal side of this battle, as cancer survivors learn a very different way of eating, with the help of PCRM's new Cancer Project class series.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM