It is expected that 1 in 2 Canadians will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime, and about 1 in 4 Canadians will die of cancer. The conversations around cancer have traditionally centered around genetics and lifestyle choices as the root of the risk, but there are equally important linkages with environments that should not be overlooked. While the fight against cancer is poised to become even greater, the advancements in technology have contributed to medical breakthroughs that are reducing the likelihood of dying from cancer.
The Impact of Environment
Environmental health is defined as the branch of public health that has to do with monitoring or mitigating those factors in the environment that affect human health and disease. The environmental health spectrum is wide, it is not limited it to radioactive environments and operating radioactive equipment, it also includes factors like workplace pollution and toxicity, the nature of a job, and whether it is predominantly shift-work, among others.
A recent study at the University of Windsor explored how women who work in an environment with an identified risk of breast cancer made sense of the risks and how they reacted to them. The environment investigated in this study was the Ambassador Bridge that connects Windsor and Detroit, the busiest border crossing in North America where more than 20,000 vehicles pass. In this environment, women are working in high vehicle exhaust, extreme air pollution, shift work and dirty working conditions that have seen women getting diagnosed with breast cancer at rates that are 16 times higher than the national average.
It is important to note that 1 in 8 women in Canada get breast cancer but only 5 to 10% of cases are genetic and that 70% of breast cancer are among women with known risk factors.
Promising Medical Breakthroughs
Most cancer treatments are very damaging to the body due to their toxic side effects and their impact on how the body functions. The challenge with chemotherapy is that it tends to damage other healthy cells while killing cancer cells. However, there are two recent studies originating out of Stanford University and Tel Aviv University that have the potential to lead towards greater remission rates and more tolerable side effects for treatment.
The Stanford University research group identified a potentially customizable approach called RASER which focuses on two cancer-related proteins. The first protein has to do with growth signal of cancer cells and the second has to do with triggering the genes involved with cell death. This approach to fighting cancer focuses on synthetic biology, rewriting DNA, and, in this situation, it is rewriting cancer cells for a desired outcome. The end result is killing cancer cells while sparing normal cells by hacking the cancer cells and changing their function.
The Tel Aviv University research group has gained recognition for potentially identifying cancer’s Achilles heel, one which may lead to entirely new ways of fighting cancer. This study focused on cancer’s abnormal chromosomal counts in cells, which is known to occur in 90% of solid tumors and 75% of blood cancers. In the end, the research group determined that there was potential to kill cancerous cells by strictly focus on the chromosomal abnormalities which would spare healthy cells.
A Lawless Disease
Cancer is considered a lawless disease because how it impacts a person’s overall health is different for everyone. While there have been major scientific breakthroughs with regards to our understanding of cancer and technology available in the fight against cancer, it is important to be informed on preventives that reduce the likelihood of developing cancer and the ways to support those battling against cancer. Although cancer diagnosis rates are going up, the overall risk of dying from cancer is declining.