Saturday, June 04, 2005

Industry–Cancer link "difficult to prove" says expert

A visiting British cancer expert cautioned this week of the difficulties in proving a direct link between the disease and potential causes such as industrial pollution in individual communities.

While any analysis into the possible connection between pollution and high cancer levels is welcome, pinning down such a link with scientific facts often proves elusive.

Spanish politicians recently promised an epidemiological study of the population in response to the recent controversy over emissions from the Campo de Gibraltar industrial complex. The aim is to test the widely held belief that the refinery and adjacent industries are to blame for the high incidence of cancer in this area.

But Professor Alex Markham, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK said past experience shows that establishing such a link beyond doubt will be difficult.

Cancer Research UK is one of the top organisations in the world in this field, raising some £350 million every year toward researching cures for cancer.
Much of its work also focuses on studying causes and means of prevention.
Yet while research has proved a link between cancer and smoking for example, or cancer and obesity, establishing why a specific population suffers from a high incidence of cancer is much harder.

“When you come to look at an individual potential risk factor, it’s always historically been very, very difficult,” said Alex Markham, chief executive of leading charity Cancer Research UK, during a visit to Gibraltar this week.

“The closest parallel I can think of in the UK is the suspicion that in Cumberland, the risk of leukaemia was high because of the Sellafield nuclear power reprocessing plant.

It’s never really been possible to prove definitively that Cumbria actually has a higher incidence of leukaemia than it might just by statistical accident.

There’s also been a huge furore for years about whether living under high-voltage power lines causes cancer.

And again, many people will go their graves swearing it does, and others will say the evidence doesn’t stack up.”

Prof Markham suggested that the best option locally might be to consistently monitor levels of known carcinogenic substances – much as the Bay Bucket Brigade has done with Benzene, for example – to establish whether people are being exposed to unacceptably high doses.

The government’s new air monitoring stations are also important in this context.

“It’s about looking at companies that may be making toxic emissions and saying, ‘what’s this?’” he said.

Related Articles:

27 May 2005 - Junta intensifies efforts to combat Campo Pollution

25 May 2005 - CEPSA emissions within the Law - Confirmed

24 May 2005 - BBB responds to confusion on Benzene level limits

24 May 2005 - Scientists create confusion over Benzene legal limit

18 May 2005 - IU express concern in Andalusian Parliament

13 May 2005 - CSIC report confirms high levels of pollutants in the Bay of Gibraltar

Cancer Research Gibraltar announce Membership drive


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