Prevent Cancer: Why Bother?
By Judy Ford
Cancer is a word that strikes fear in the heart of individuals and families. When it strikes close to us we sit
impotently by as we watch our loved one suffer. The victim is usually offered surgery, radiotherapy and
chemotherapy and goes through a dreadful time of illness and suffering, not knowing whether they are winning the
battle. Cancers vary. Some are more aggressive than others. Some have a reasonable chance of survival. Other
cancers are outright killers. A cancer death is always ugly, usually painful and often degrading.
We know that the rates of most cancers are rising, especially breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. We
know that the death rates in these cancers have dropped but the suffering has not. We also know that a great deal
of research has been undertaken but most of the results we hear about are concerned with treatment. Perhaps there
is a new wonder drug on the market or a new discovery about how to administer radiation. This research is of course
very helpful once we are ill but why isn’t there more effort put into prevention? Do we need to get ill in the
There are several fairly obvious reasons why most money, effort and publicity is put into cure rather than
prevention. It is really very easy to understand but this bias is hard to justify.
- First, almost all of us live in a capitalist economy. Businesses have to make money and so they need to
sell products. Drug companies invest heavily in each drug that they develop and many never reach the market so
pharmaceutical companies need to market their products very strongly in order to recoup money for their
- Second, prevention doesn’t sell newspapers and is hard to prove. The absence of something is never as
interesting or startling as drama. Prevention doesn’t captivate the audience in the same way as dramatic cures.
Being saved from a trauma is much more interesting than the absence of trauma in the first place. Drama sells
newspapers, books, radio, TV and films.
- Third, there are vested interests in many of the products that are causing cancer. In 1939 there was
definite proof that tobacco smoking causes lung cancer. Serious efforts to curtail smoking have only occurred
in some countries recently. In others, it hasn’t started. We have a long way to go before we restrict other
cancer causing agents.
Fourth, politicians don’t win votes on prevention. Prevention is slow. The results are only seen over the
long term. Politicians are generally disinterested in things that can’t be accomplished within their term
The good news is that a great deal is known about the cancer process and the variety of things that can affect
it. There are three major steps in development. They often occur over long periods of time, even decades, but can
occur simultaneously in one part of the body. The steps are MUTATION, CANCER PROMOTION and CANCER PROGRESSION.
The chances of any of these steps taking place in your body can be significantly reduced by understanding and
knowledge. Research has explained most of the mechanisms that underlie cellular errors and the progression of
changes from a normal cell to a cancer cell. Intelligent people are capable of understanding these processes even
without a Science or Health background. Research has also gone a long way to showing us how the three stages can be
eliminated or minimized. This is still work in progress but there is already a great deal that you can do right
Dr Judy Ford is an internationally respected geneticist who has undertaken considerable research into the causes
of cancer , and the steps that can be undertaken to prevent cancer or greatly reduce personal risk. Dr Ford worked
for 30 years in Cancer Research, specializing in how genetic material can be damaged by some chemicals and
radiations. She also contributed a great deal to knowledge about how cells misdivide. She now works as a Science
Communicator, explaining Science in lay terms and showing people how they can modify their lifestyles to reduce
their risks of cancer. She has recently written an E-Book: Know Your Enemy: Understand and Reduce Cancer Risk.
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