Chemicals can trigger cancer in a variety of ways, including disrupting hormones, damaging DNA, inflaming tissues and turning genes on or off. Many pesticides are “known or probable” carcinogens and, as the President’s Panel notes, exposure to these chemicals is widespread.
Children are especially at risk of developing cancer from pesticide exposure, and childhood cancer rates continue to rise. Studies show that pesticide exposure during pregnancy and throughout childhood increase the risk of cancer among children.
Girls who were exposed to DDT before they reach puberty were found to be five times more likely to develop breast cancer in middle age, according to the President’s Cancer Panel. And researchers recently found that DDT exposure in the womb quadrupled breast cancer risk.
When either parent is exposed to pesticides before a child is even conceived, that child’s risk of cancer goes up as well.
Farmers, farmworkers and their families tend to be exposed to more pesticides than the general population. They also experience higher rates of a cancer. For example:
- Farmers and pesticide applicators have higher rates of prostate cancer.
- Women who work with pesticides suffer more often from ovarian cancer.
- Cropduster pilots and farm women have higher rates of skin cancer.
Despite the growing scientific consensus that environmental contaminants are causing cancer in humans, research continues to focus on improving treatments and finding a cure.
Our free-market system is not designed to encourage investment in disease prevention, and — let’s be honest — major corporations are profiting from both the products that cause cancer and the products that treat it. We’re not saying it’s anyone’s intention to profit from cancer; that’s just the way our system works.
Biologist and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber comments on the links between cancer and pesticides in the President’s Cancer Panel report:
“We have sprayed pesticides … throughout our shared environment. They are now in amniotic fluid. They’re in our blood. They’re in our urine. They’re in our exhaled breath. They are in mothers’ milk … What is the burden of cancer that we can attribute to this use of poisons in our agricultural system? … We won’t really know the answer until we do the other experiment — which is to take the poisons out of our food chain, embrace a different kind of agriculture, and see what happens.”
Steingraber’s book (and documentary film) Living Downstream tells the story of her own “journey” as a cancer survivor, and documents her scientific investigations that expose a simple, tragic truth: As a society, we are so busy treating cancer and searching diligently for a cure that we’re failing to tackle its causes.