December 27, 2012 • Podcasts
Remembering Eco-Feminist Rosalie Bertell
Continued from page 2
LF: Now we’re at a situation where the breast cancer rate is somewhere between 1 in 9, 1 in 8. And there are all sorts of explanations, many of the ones we see most often in the press have to do with diet, have to do with genetics, have to do with exposure to pesticides. What is your reaction to the state of the debate so far, and what do you think is being left out of the picture?
RB: Well the risk factors that have been identified so far, for breast cancer, explain less than 10% of the cases, so they’re obviously not the overall explanation. Eating fatty foods is an interesting one, because fat never really hurt anyone, it’s that a lot of the carcinogens are fat-soluble, not water-soluble, so instead of going after the polluters, they go after the people, and make the people feel it’s their fault if they ate fat [chuckles], you know, fat’s part of a normal diet.
Most of the cancer-related programs right now are what I would characterize as “blame-the-victim” programs. The big ones are “don’t smoke”, “don’t eat fatty food”, and “don’t sit in the sun” [laughs]. You know, well, it’s not my fault that the military’s up there ruining the ozone layer [laughs]. Or the carcinogens - why not go after the people putting the carcinogens that are fat-soluble in the environment, instead of telling people not to eat fatty foods? Also, the cigarettes, North American cigarettes are among the worst in the world, and a lot of the pollution in the cigarettes is from the phosphate fertilizer that’s being used on the tobacco, which incorporates radioactive material into the tars, and any other substance that’s there. So, I do think that we need to go into our cancer and health questions more deeply. You certainly are not going to solve all the health problems in this country by jogging.
And again, I’m not against jogging, I’m just saying that it’s too superficial and there’s too much blame and responsibility put on the individual. That’s why I’m trying to work with communities. I think there are aspects of your health that can only be dealt with on a community level, like the community water supply, or the community air-pollution level. There’s nothing you can do, in fact, you can make your health worse, if you have air-pollution, by jogging, because you breathe more deeply, and you bring more of it into your lungs. So, we have to become more sophisticated in health, and we have to begin to deal on community, regional, national and international levels, with the major threats to health, and not just have a physical fitness class.
FW: Dr. Bertell’s mathematical analysis of the breast cancer epidemic led her to serious conclusions about the effects of nuclear testing. The US conducted above-ground nuclear tests from 1945 to 1963.
RB: I started looking at the data very carefully when Mothering magazine approached me to write a feature article on breast cancer. I spent a good bit of time looking at the detailed data, and I found one of the best articles was in the journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1990. It was done by the Kaiser Permanente, which is a health maintenance organization in Oregon.
So, they had very detailed information on 2000 women with breast cancer, and their information was really quite startling, because the increase, it’s not gradual, it’s not something that’s been happening slowly over a long period of time. If you look at their data, you’ll see that, as different cohorts of people, people born in different years, move into the, say 40-59 year old, or the over-60 year old group, there’s a sudden jump. These are big jumps, as many as an increase in 100 cases per 100 000, which is a, that’s a monumental increase. If you have a solid tumour like that, you figure it hits observable size in around 30 years, so you start saying, “What was going on 30 years ago?”
So, when you start looking back, it’s pretty clear that these numbers are being affected by the fallout period from 1951 to 1963, when most of North America was blanketed with fallout from atmospheric nuclear testing. And it’s interesting, because when the people that were in their 20s moved into the 40-59 group, there’s a big jump. When the younger people moved in to the over-60, there was another jump there. So, there are several very discrete jumps, and it looks to me as if this epidemic will continue now until – I think we’ve now gotten to the ones that were 11 or 12 years old at the time that the testing started – they’re now getting into the breast cancer age, but the younger ones have still to come.
So this epidemic, I think will be with us for a while, until this whole cohort that was affected by the atmospheric testing moves through. Now, I don’t think that’s the only factor. And given the fact that the underlying epidemic can be due to radiation exposure at an early age, I have serious questions about routinely using mammography on people, because radiation can cause cancer, but it also can stimulate a cancer that’s caused by other factors, and cause it to develop more rapidly. So, I don’t see any justification for routine use of mammography for screening. I’m not objecting to it as a diagnostic tool when there’s a good reason to use it.