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Cancer Risks

Cancer Risks

HHRA is concerned that rising exposures to pesticides and other chemicals used in food production and processing may be increasing cancer risk. 

Cancer afflicts nearly one in three Americans and nearly all families. Cancer is an incredibly complex, diverse disease that can attack almost all parts of the human body in dozens of different ways.

Every day of everyone’s life, literally billions of small mistakes are made as our cells replicate and our bodies age. Human growth and renewal happens when cells divide. When a cell divides, DNA must be copied and replicated in the new cells, but sometimes the replication process is slightly flawed, leading to a few mismatches in our internal genetic code. Some such errors sow the seeds of cancer.

Our immune system almost immediately recognizes the aberrant DNA and attacks it as if it were a foreign virus or bacterium. But sometimes the immune system is otherwise occupied dealing with, for example, an ear or urinary infection, pneumonia, or COVID. Some people take immuno-suppressive drugs in the hope of reducing inflammation, combating allergies, or to avoid rejection of an organ transplant. 

So for all of us, a small fraction of our daily allotment of aberrant cells are not fully and quickly snuffed out. And so they grow.

But fortunately for humankind, only a very small fraction of aberrant cell growths progress to cancer. But regrettably some do. To progress to a cancerous growth or tumor, aberrant cell masses have to be fed the nutrients they need to quickly multiply, while also warding off the next, and next, and next wave of attacks by the immune system. 

Maintaining the supply of nutrients needed to feed early-stage cancerous cell growth requires a remarkable range of tricks, as does neutralizing — and surviving — each new effort by the immune system to shut down cancerous cell growths. 

Many things have to go wrong for aberrant cell growth to survive the efforts of our immune system to snuff it out or starve it. For this reason, it is rare for just one thing to cause cancer, even in the case of widely known carcinogens like vinyl chloride and cigarette smoke. After all, we know that not everyone who smokes gets cancer, nor do all workers in plastic manufacturing plants get cancer from vinyl chloride. 

Pesticides and Cancer

Several dozen widely-used pesticides are endocrine disruptors and damage DNA, and likely are triggering errors in DNA replication, some of which can lead to cancer. Other pesticides are known to suppress or somehow undermine the human immune system. Some are known to promote cancerous cell growths, and a few seem to basically feed cancer cells. A small number appear capable of doing all or most of the above in triggering cancerous cell growths and helping them in their continuous battle with the human immune system.

The three herbicides that account for almost all of the worrisome growth in herbicide use in the 13-state Heartland Study region have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as “probable” (glyphosate) or “possible” (2,4-D, dicamba) human carcinogens. This is why cancer is on the HHRA and Heartland Study radar screen, and will remain so until science and regulation end routine human exposures to chemicals relied upon to bring food to our tables.

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