The World Health Organization states that, “prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer,” and cites a variety of preventable factors which can lead to cancer in our daily lives, including pollution, occupational carcinogens, and radiation.
Many individuals, businesses and partner organizations that have stood up for cancer prevention have made a big difference in the fight against cancer.
In 1962, when Rachel Carson’s world-awakening book, Silent Spring, was published, cancer struck one in every four Canadians. These were shocking statistics back then. In what became one of the best-selling books of the 20th century, Carson urged governments to seize the ‘golden opportunity’ to prevent cancer, rather than solely focusing on treatment and research for the cure. But with little attention paid to prevention over the past 40+ years, cancer rates continue to increase. Currently, nearly one in two males in Canada and over one third of females will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Cancer is now the leading cause of death in Canada. Every April and October – the two ‘cancer months’ on our calendar – we are urged to adopt healthy lifestyle choices, which is indeed very good advice. Not smoking, eating plenty of fresh, whole – preferably organic – foods and getting regular exercise are all essential to good health. So is maintaining a healthy body weight, being moderate with alcoholic beverages, and reducing UV radiation exposures. The carcinogens in our air, water and food – those scores of toxic hitch-hikers we don’t choose – are often an afterthought in Canadian cancer messages, as are the serious hazards in our homes and workplaces. The Cancer Prevention Challenge is designed to draw attention to these unnecessary and preventable risks.
For those in whom cancer is already a hidden or visible presence, efforts to find cures must of course continue. But for those not yet touched by the disease and certainly for the generations as yet unborn, prevention is the imperative need.”
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)
Dr. Sandra Steingraber, author of Living Downstream – An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment was quoted in the Utne Reader, saying,
Astonishingly, you can read entire tracts about cancer published by the ACS [American Cancer Society] and the word carcinogen never comes up. These seemingly authoritative agencies have framed the cause of the disease as a problem of behavior rather than as one of exposure to disease-causing agents.”
Why prevention plays second fiddle to ‘the cure’
Cancer, as well as being the leading cause of death in Canada, is big business. It’s a very good bet that if a cure for cancer were found tomorrow, or the disease somehow disappeared overnight, our economy would be thrown into deep doldrums. Tens of thousands of jobs – in hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, research labs, cancer societies, ‘cure’ fundraisers – would be lost, even as ordinary citizens rejoiced.
The elusive ‘cure’
In 1971, US President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer, promising ‘the cure’ in 10 years. Four decades later, we are not significantly closer to the cure for most cancers, although some welcome breakthroughs have been made. As for incidence, however, in 2010 statistics predict that nearly one in two males, and close to 40% of females will experience a malignancy at some point in their lives, and one in four will die from cancer.
Four decades into the War on Cancer, conquest is not on the horizon. As a somber statement on the National Cancer Institute web site says, “the biology of the more than 100 types of cancers has proven far more complex than imagined at that time.”
Newsweek, September 6, 2008. “We Fought Cancer…And Cancer Won.”
That brings us to fundraising. Most of the multi-million dollar ‘cure’ fundraisers in Canada organize and promote elaborate events in various parts of Canada, all with very high overheads – and all promising participants and their sponsors the elusive cure. How many repeats of The Weekend to End Breast Cancer will it take to truly end breast cancer?
Why not prevention?
Of the half-billion dollars spent in Canada on cancer research each year, less than 2% is devoted to finding the causes – and preventing – cancer. Meanwhile, cancer incidence rates continue to climb. While cancer is often touted as a disease of the elderly, in 2009, best estimates predicted that 30% of new cancer cases and 18% of cancer deaths would occur in young and middle-aged adults ages 20-59.
As for older Canadians, yes, the percentage share rises: 43% of new cancer cases and 60% of cancer deaths will occur among those who are at least 70 years old. But whatever happened to dying of old age? Primary prevention could make a huge difference to our cancer rates, but it’s not as compelling as chasing a cure. And, alas, in a society dominated by corporations, there’s no profit in it either. So, in addition to those healthy personal choices, as parents, as human beings, we must also pressure governments, industry and agriculture to eliminate cancer-causing substances from our air, water and soil – and get them out of thousands of consumer and personal products now on the market. Click here for more resources
A brief history
As things often do, the Run, Walk & Roll for Cancer Prevention – now The Cancer Prevention Challenge – started with a conversation. With no funding, but tons of enthusiasm and support from many people, the Cancer Prevention Challenge was born. In 2004, the plan was to partly raise funds to help fund the book being called Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic and then help get a Canadian prevention group (Prevent Cancer Now) off the ground. From 2004 to 2008, the geographic focus was mainly Ottawa’s great race weekend at the end of May, although we did have events in London and Windsor one year. Then, with interest for cancer prevention coming from people across Canada we decided to widen the scope. Hence, the transformation in 2009 to The Cancer Prevention Challenge.
The Cancer Prevention Challenge runs year-round. Under this banner, anyone who wants to walk or run for a charity, or play euchre, sell cupcakes, hold a dinner theatre night or raise funds for cancer prevention can join together for the same cause. Each year we look forward to your creative challenge ideas and are so grateful for your support.