As I work through family history research and visit some of the contexts I which that history occurred one of the interesting things is the longevity of various members of our family. My memories of “old” family members mostly included various boring trips to small apartments in the Bronx with my parents to visit my dad’s aunts or uncles. In my memories these people got cancer and died, or died of heart attacks. The real cause of death may have been otherwise. I might be creating a convenient narrative around the cause of death.
A recent medical study in the USA suggests that the Bronx does have a higher than average rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. My own grandfather was diagnosed and lived a significant portion of his life in the Bronx.
As I have gotten older I have often wondered why there is an apparent up-surge in the types and rate of cancers (and diseases like Alzheimers and leukemia). Many point to genetic dispositions and gene based therapies. I find these narratives hard to believe. If we take a long term evolutionary view on the development of humans, which I also don’t concede to, then why didn’t cancer attack and kill off humans in their development?
As I learn more about risk management in business, the structure and approach in scientific studies (often looking at single factor contributors), and the role of regulation in environmental protection and sustainability (to limit the liability of companies and to secure the resources needed by companies through time), it seems that I believe the gene-based foundation for cancer less and less. That is, I believe that most cancers are the body reacting to something external, rather than something body-internal. I’m not currently prepared to take a strong position on this, but that is what seems to be the more believable story. We see this with asbestos and sun-based skin cancers.
If cancers are really reactions to environmental conditions, and they are more prevalent over the last 3-4 generations, then my assumption is that they correlate with the activities introduced within the context of the Industrial Revolution, the petrochemical and plastic production chain, and modern impacts of the application of pesticides, herbicides, plastics, and petroleum products to life processes. (For example one medical equipment sterilization company released atmospheric gas which are attributed to a significant increase in cancer in area residents.) We now come into contact with more plastics than at any point in humanity’s history. Plastic permeates the globe. I was at a park yesterday Where wood and natural materials were treated as “high end” upscale materials. Our generation is presented with interesting combinations of food allergies that people are diagnosed with, but very little investigation (at the individual case level) has gone into the treatment of these specific foods or how seed stock might have been modified from even 20 years ago.
I find the connection between how humans perceive and experience their environment and how industrial processes are interconnected to the dwelling environment interesting.
The larger context of how industry and big philanthropy dollars ends up guiding the outputs of nonprofits and charities is interesting. In the case of the second hand shop mentioned previously, I wonder what kind of research they sponsor. That is, can they ever sponsor enough cancer research to actually create change in the highly profitable industrialized petrochemical industry? Perhaps the best kind of cancer research is the kind of research that doesn’t seek to heal cancers, but to find and develop alternative economic industries to those which mandate the use of chemical products.