Cancer is one of the leading causes of deaths in the United States today. But why are cancer clusters so difficult to diagnose? Are doctors doing enough? Is the environment too taxing?
The New York Times reports on the genetic causes behind cancer and the obscurity of cancer clusters. Many patients are now blaming their physicians or healthcare providers for not giving proper attention or screening to their issues and symptoms. People are also concerned about water supplies that eventually cause cancer.
“The genetic mutations that cause cancer can take decades to manifest themselves. But the laws we cobble together often trump those of science. And even when legal obstacles can be overcome, a link between a cancer and environmental pollutants is exceedingly difficult to establish, whether in a laboratory or a court of law. The plaintiffs in a current lawsuit lived at the base at various times from the 1950s through 1985, a period when the drinking water was polluted with dry-cleaning fluid, organic solvents and benzene — chemicals on the National Toxicology Program’s list of known and probable carcinogens,” according to The New York Times.
Experts are weighing in on whether things like cancer clusters, or in other words, environmental factors are more to blame for the progression of cancer than genetics or lifestyle. For example in the current case researchers say that marines at the base containing cancer clusters in the water had a much higher chance of dying from cancer than marines at other bases. Many of those marines died from kidney cancer.
“The more rare a cancer, the more difficult it is to separate real influences from statistical noise. Particularly confusing were some 80 Lejeune veterans who came forward with diagnoses of male breast cancer, some at an unusually early age. The annual incidence of this condition is about 1.4 cases per 100,000 men, about 1 percent of the rate for women,” according to The Times.
There have been numerous cancer clusters on bases. But even more common than bases is cancer clusters found in factories, where workers seek remedies but find their plight hard to prove.
What causes cancer?
Scientists tell us that cancer is brought on by an accumulation of genetic mutations. These are miniscule distortions in a cell’s DNA that retool it into a horribly replicating machine. A number of the mutations are inherited, but some are caused by outside agents, and some are simply copying errors that occur randomly as a body’s cells divide and mutate.
How do pollutants play a role in this? Pollutants add to the issue of causing cancer.
The Times explains, “But no matter how carcinogenic they are, the doses most people receive can hardly compare with the thick concentration of chemical waste inhaled, minute after minute, by cigarette smokers into the microscopic depths of their lungs. To get that kind of exposure, you would have to hook a tube to a factory smokestack and breath the fumes for years, or subject yourself to an intravenous drip of toxic sludge.”