Thursday, October 30, 2008


Several times over the past couple of years I have been asked where I source information about cancer... actually I go to the Public Health Agency of Canada web site where there is a Surveillance and Risk Assessment Division web site for which I have left a link below on this post. Today I want to focus attention on an interesting trend in Canada, that is probably duplicated in the USA...


With the exception of the Inuit population in the Nunavut Region, Nova Scotia has the highest rate of all cancer in the country. This trend is true when you look at the rates of cancer for all age groups, and especially for those from 60 thru 64 who understand this situation very deeply...


We think we know that cancer depends on the genetic make up of the individual... but also, in a significant way, the environment in which the individual lives makes an enormous difference. If this is the case, and we know that the prevailing wind across the country is from west to east, isn't there a large question that needs to be asked... its like the 800 pound gorilla in our province!

Why are we accepting the high levels of pollution and carcinogens in our air from the west without question?

The map below demonstrates the trend to higher cancer incidence rates from west to east. If you want a better view of the map, just click on it, and it will enlarge for you... to reverse back to the blog, just hit the back arrow in the top left of your screen.

For those of you not familiar with our geography, and our provincial layout, the boot-shaped, dark brown province on the east coast is Nova Scotia. We are directly east of the state of Maine, and the city of Boston is just an hour by plane from Halifax.

The chart below is the source of the map data above. The provinces are listed from east to west, and here Nova Scotia is listed with 436 cancer patients per 100,000 population. Please understand that none of these data include skin cancer. Again, click on the chart to see it clearly:

The thrust of my comments so far probably argue toward the issue of environmental pollution including carcinogens as being the culprit in the high rate of cancer in the east. There is also the heritage factor... most Nova Scotians are descendants of Northern Europeans, particularly the fair skinned Irish and Scotish immigrants prevalent in the 1800s. But that would lead one to skin cancers... which are not part of the data. So, I suspect that we are back to the pollution, since we are all eating food that is thoroughly checked for carcinogens. While I understand that this is a simplistic way to look at it... I believe that being too deep in data has not gotten us anywhere. And we all know the Einstein Theory on Insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".

Of course, I don't have answers to all these questions, but as I find them, I am likely to post them here. I have been pointing out in past posts that the people running for election in Canada and the USA don't ever seem to have a position on Cancer... is it perhaps because this is a Pandora's box? Could we find out that the environmental problems we have due to the unfettered industrialization of the globe are much deeper than simply global warming? Would be have to be more aggressive with the approval process of the foods we put in our body... why is it that we only investigate the impact of drugs or objects we put in our bodies... generally, why do we have more cancer in Nova Sc0tia than anywhere else in Canada, and perhaps North America... you know what I mean...

Here in Nova Scotia, we are facing one hell of a time with our health care system. Mostly, in my opinion we are capable of excellent health care in the Halifax area today... the system is working well, with emergent and critical care being very strong. This is because the population density enables the efficient use of medical services up-to-and-including very high tech solutions, some of which are unavailable in many areas of North America.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in the province's areas that are sparcly populated, which in my book includes all areas of Nova Scotia outside what is called HRM, when considering critical mass needs for good quality health care. Also, I believe that the future will put more pressure on the system both in and outside HRM, as our population ages, and is not replaced by more vibrant population that is footing the bill through their taxes. Nova Scotia is getting older, fast!

The risk of cancer goes up with age... 45% of all Canadian men will be challenged by a cancer in their life time. The data is similar for women. If we extend this to the population in Nova Scotia, it is probable that our expectation rate is higher! So what are we doing about it?

We are treating the symptoms, at best. We have a state-of-the-art PET/CT scanner in Halifax now. We will soon need a cyclotron (at a cost of around $6million) to give us a stable source of radio-isotopes so the PET can have uninterrupted use... and so we can use proton emission cancer treatments some day. We have a couple of MRIs and several CTs and Scanners; and Nuclear Cameras that are used in diagnosis of cancer (among other ailments). We have very capable physicians that are capable of utilizing all of these systems along with the radiation treatment planning computers and treatment sources. We have several chemo therapy centers... like Yarmouth, Truro and Sydney. All of this is admirable, but it is not getting at the front end of the cancer diseases... prevention!

There does not seem to be a government or societal effort to reduce the environmental sources of cancer. It took years, for example to do something with the Sydney Tar Ponds... and we can't be certain it will be effective in reducing cancer clusters in that area. What about the fact that in Nova Scotia we have to have our hand on the fuel nozzle while we pump gas into our cars, keeping our breathing apparatus close to the aerosol pollution backing up from the car's tank... There does not seem to be an adequate or effective plan to reduce cancer through education. I lifted this two paragraph statement from the same source as the above maps...

If you take the time to look at this two paragraph statement that comes from our federal government, you will read that approximately 45% of cancers occurring in Canada could be eliminated.

Go ahead, read it... all you need to do is click on the paragraph and it will grow to the point where you can read it. I actually suspect that the leaders of the government don't want you to, because it would then draw into question all of the other things that they seem to focus on when they campaign for office. If we elect them to reduce cancer, even by 10%... imagine the impact. Not only will there be less funerals... the cost of health care will go down substantially!

In North America it is estimated that 50% of all health care costs go toward the care of people in the last year of life! In Canada, cancer is the second most prevalent cause of death... if we could reduce that death rate by 10 to 45%, imagine the impact on health care costs. Health care is over 9% of the GDP... 50% is spent in the last year of people's lives! That is a lot of money that could be spent on education, infrastructure and so on.

But we are not even asking the questions about cancer... and how to diagnose it; treat it; live with it; and perhaps prevent it!

It is the prevention that I want to come back to now... remember the map up above. Remember that the cancer rates increase from west to east. That points a large finger at pollution, particularly the pollution that is air born and contains carcinogens. Shouldn't we be pointing at those sources and trying to have them controlled, shut down or cause them to pay for our cancer!

Much of this material was sourced from the following web address. You can click on the link, and get to this and much more information.

It is my opinion that we have to change the way that we are approaching many issues that are societal in nature. Clearly, there are issues that impact the whole population, but are driven by a relatively small portion of it. We should respect people's rights, unless they are impinging on the rights of everyone else. There are issues for which we have been trying the socially and politically correct solutions... clearly they are not working. It is time perhaps to find leadership that will have the intestinal fortitude to take on carcinogen type sources of pollution, smoking, obesity, and other clear causes of cancer and other health care costs.

I look forward to your thoughts...


Nathalie said...

Bruce, I think that was an excellent entry. Cancer is everyone's enemy and is insidious and implacable. Beyond the physical and emotional trauma it introduces in a person's life and his/her family and friends, it carries a huge financial cost, both to the family concerned and the society as a whole. For that matter, I entirely agree that this should be a bigger issue for our political leaders in particular.
One of the biggest problems is that the bigger culprits are either unaware or hiding their wrongdoing. What matters is the bottom line, and if lobbies are left unchecked and capitalism runs completely wild, our political leaders will not take on this battle, and the greatest conspiracy in the world will keep on going.
Prevention IS a huge part of fighting this beast, and it requires not only keeping the obvious polluting culprits in check, but also championing education and research to determine what helps. I am thinking in particular about diet, yes, and various other environmental factors, as other potential enablers for the disease.
I for one believe it is critical to eat as much as possible non-processed foods, as raw and green as possible - organic of course, and less animal protein, and if possible to look into maintaining a healthy body PH by avoiding an acidic blood.
That also means drinking the right kind of water: drinking tap water filled with all kinds of chemicals is not helping (from the treatment process itself to the various and numerous contaminants that are flushed down our own drains - drugs and cleaning agents for one, and pesticide residues infiltrating our sources). Bottled water is not much better, especially in those nasty plastic bottles. Wherever possible, I personally use glass, stainless steel, or some other inert material.
Air of course is a big one as well, as you have discussed, so I will not go into more details here.

Personally, I also think we need to go back to the basics on what is actually surrounding us: use cast iron pans instead of teflon, eliminate aluminum pots and plastic/polystyrene containers, etc. . The same goes for our cleaning products and the materials with which we build our houses, offices, furniture, carpets, etc. : bleach, CFCs, VOCs, etc.
I personally believe in making your own laundry detergent, cleaning sprays, etc. Avoid chemical based candles, insecticides, deodorizers, etc. Use plants to filter pollutants out of the air you breathe.

Also, your skin is the biggest organ of your body, and is a permeable barrier that merely protects us from physical harm, not so much from chemical contamination. I therefore prefer to use safe soaps, shampoos and hair products, creams and deodorants without aluminum, organic/natural toothpaste. etc.

Once you start looking at the MASSIVE amount of potentially harmful chemicals in all our beauty and cleaning product, cancer feels like an even more insidious threat, and one that maybe we are even making worst ourselves, unknowingly.

I agree that all that might not make potentially much of a difference, or that not all has been thoroughly researched, but I think that all those little things really end up adding up, and that there cannot be harm in cutting down as much as possible by changing our habits to go back to the basics. Natural IS better 95% of the time.
We can make these specific choices at a personal level, and each of us can fight their little battle at the level they wish.
But actual pollution does need to be controlled and curtailed. And for that, I agree with everything you said. Except that I think that the localization of the higher rates of cancer are probably linked to some extent to the way of life in the various areas just as much as the actual pollutants (way of life, food habits, physical activity levels, or even population age).

Anyway, those are my two cents, not in any particular order, as I am typing in this little window, but I am hoping to contribute some to this much important topic.

Much love to you and Lynnda,

Anonymous said...


The most disgraceful statistic is the one for Nunavut. The highest cancer rates in this country.


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Grad. Saint Mary's University, 1975, got into the medical device business initially in sales, then various management positions up to president, all in Medical Devices. I prefer therapy products over diagnostic, but they are all fun, and in a way have defined my life. I have now evolved, with help from my 35 year partner Lynnda with whom I now share every hour. I am into staying healthy, photography, kayaking, bicycling, gardening and two books a week. I wish I had gotten to this stage earlier!