Monday, March 24, 2008

OxyMoronic Ideas about Cancer and "Organic Food"

A lady I know was recently diagnosed with cancer. A bunch of people organized to bring food over to her house (to ease at least one burden on her family while she’s in treatment). Then I learned that, on the advice of her children who are “in the health professions” (as one person put it), this lady now prefers to eat only “organic” foods lest something she eats would encourage the cancer to grow.

Fact: All foods are organic.

Fact: Even foods that carry the “organic” label (a specific designation from the FDA about how the foods are grown) aren’t necessarily more healthful than other foods. (See

Fact: Even “organic” pesticides (those derived from plants rather than synthesized) can be dangerous to humans. (See Pesticide Information Profiles: Rotenone. June, 1996. Pesticide Information Project of Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University, Oregon State University, the University of Idaho, and the University of California at Davis and the Institute for Environmental Toxicology, Michigan State University.

I won’t be bringing food to this lady. I’m sorry for her condition, but I’ll provide non-food help from afar (i.e., the best I can do right now is pray for her) just because it seems foolish to provide help to someone who believes the hype about “organic” foods. I mean, really, if I bring over chicken stew do I have to provide proof that everything was grown/raised “organically” lest they throw it away?

Inasmuch as I understand that people are upset with the cancer diagnosis, a radical change in diet is not going to make the cancer go away. Even if their children are “in the health professions,” that doesn’t mean they’re immune from deception about “organic” foods.

While there are specific links between some genetic codes and certain types of cancer; and while there are specific causal relationships between certain behaviors and certain types of cancer, it remains true that we really don’t know why there is cancer: why it appears in some people and not in others, how it starts in the first place, and what really kills it. It’s frightening to have any kind of cancer as a diagnosis, even for something that is treatable.

I have a maternal aunt who had a radical mastectomy (about 20 years ago) because she had breast cancer. She and her sisters (including my mother) smoked like chimneys for years. Why didn’t any of them get lung cancer? Why did one of them get breast cancer but none of the others did? Guess what: All of them are alive and they’re in their 80s. My mother is the one who developed COPD (the only genetically linked disease among them – their mother had it, and their mother didn’t smoke) and emphysema. Aunt Helen had breast cancer. Aunt Mary has had a heart attack (and she wasn’t the only Type A personality among them) and fights psoriasis. None of these women have lived more than 100 miles from where they grew up; in fact, all of their life experiences were quite similar (the difference being that my mother had 10 children).

So, why did one person (we’ll call her T) develop ovarian cancer in her 30s when she had no risk factors for it?

Why did another person (we’ll call we W) develop several different kinds of cancer (the first round was breast cancer at age 60, the next 2 – other forms – about 25 years later) when there was no family history and she ate a healthy diet?

Another woman (we’ll call her K) developed breast cancer but was treated with chemo and has been cancer-free for 20+ years.

There’s a whole lot of why out there. There’s a whole lot that nobody knows.

But here’s the good news: We’re a lot better at being able to treat it than we were even 20 years ago.

But nobody gets better through fear-mongering and misguided notions about foods affecting cancer.

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