What you should know about cancer clusters

A cancer cluster is a greater-than-expected number of cancer cases in a group of people, a period of time or a geographical area. Perhaps, for example, all cases of lung cancer in cigarette smokers could be regarded as a cancer cluster. The best-known cancer cluster originated in the 1960s when many workers who had been exposed to asbestos developed mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavities.

Tracking the cause of a cancer cluster is not always easy and they are sometimes difficult to identify. Agreement on when a cluster has occurred is not always straightforward, either. Take, for instance, one of the latest cancer cluster scares involving a number of children around Sydney’s Mona Vale who have developed cancer over the past 10 years. Local residents alleged the culprit might be a gas, ethylene oxide, that was being discharged from local medical supply company Unomedical.

Ethylene oxide is used to sterilise medical instruments. While there is no conclusive proof that the chemical causes cancer, the World Health Organization has classified ethylene oxide as a cancer-causing agent (carcinogen) and the US Environmental Protection Authority considers it a probable cancer-causing substance. On balance, NSW Health also decided ethylene oxide should be considered a carcinogen. In July 2007, Unomedical was closed down until it could operate safely without emitting ethylene oxide. In August 2007, Unomedical was allowed to recommence operations without fine after installing a catalytic converter to eliminate ethylene oxide emissions.

At no stage was the ethylene oxide definitively identified as being at levels that would cause harm and there was not even agreement that the numbers of children developing cancer constituted a cluster. Dr Luce Dalla Pozza of the oncology unit at Westmead Children’s Hospital says that, although seven of the 14 children have leukemia, he believes the incidence “falls into the realm of chance”.

There have been two other cancer clusters reported recently. At the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) studios in Toowong, Queensland, 15 women were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1994 and 2006. This is a rate that is 11 times that of the general community. Eight of the affected women worked in the newsroom and most had worked at the studios for more than five years. Official reports so far conclude electromagnetic radiation is not the likely cause of the cluster.

It was revealed in July 2007 that at Concord Hospital four women working in the nutrition department and another woman from the nearby psychology wing were diagnosed with breast cancer within a six-year period. Hospital management acknowledged these figures constituted an unusually high rate and launched an investigation to find some explanation, at the same time noting that the cancer incidence could quite possibly be a chance occurrence.

Bruce Armstrong, a professor of public health and medical foundation fellow at Sydney Cancer Centre in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, is a cancer cluster expert. During a recent Catalyst program (October 11, 2007) about the Toowong cluster, hosted by reporter Maryanne Demasi, Armstrong stated, “We have no reason based on history or on that site that leads us to believe there has been an increase in exposure to ionising radiation.” However, later in the program he conceded, “There is some evidence in the literature that working shiftwork does increase the likelihood of breast cancer.”

Dr Andrew Penman, the chief executive officer of the NSW Cancer Council, had this to say when queried about cancer clusters, “Until you have done a formal analysis of the difference in rates between different areas and determine that it is so far beyond the realm of chance that it requires further investigation, you are not even at first base.”

Obviously, identifying a cancer cluster is not a simple issue, but we need to be vigilant. The pace of technological change is so rapid that we are exposed to all manner of new products without knowing the full implications for human health. As was illustrated earlier, there are many environmental factors that could potentially initiate a cancer cluster phenomenon. However, despite the current state of the findings at the ABC at Toowong, perhaps the fastest-proliferating potential agent that may be involved in cancer clusters is electropollution.

What is electropollution?

There has been a lot of research into electropollution but, so far, tests show that exposure to RF (radio frequency) or ELF (extremely low frequency) electromagnetic radiation from overhead power lines is unlikely to be the cause of cancers such as breast cancer. However, the tests are normally only carried out in small areas as spot checks and the research is ongoing and inconclusive.

Electrical appliances and transmitters have an invisible electrical and magnetic field around them. This includes mobile phones and computers, found in just about every home in Australia. Then there’s Bluetooth, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and WiFi, which is used to provide internet access in hotels, shops etc. Microwave towers have popped up everywhere over recent years.

There has been a technological explosion over the past 25 years and we are now living in close contact with electromagnetic radiation, which bathes us constantly. Our bodies, which have taken millions of years to evolve, have not had time to adapt to this new environmental factor. So what effect is this electromagnetic soup having on your health?

High-voltage power transmission lines have been linked to leukemia in young children. Exposure to radiation is known to produce cancers, especially in the brain, eyes and ears. It has even been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and autism. People living near atomic bomb test sites had a proliferation of miscarriages, birth defects and other problems, which have been well documented.

Robert Becker MD, a recognised expert in electromagnetic radiation and author of Cross Currents: The Perils of Electropollution, states, “I have no doubt in my mind that at the present time, the greatest polluting element in the earth’s environment is the proliferation of electromagnetic fields. I consider this to be far greater, on a global scale, than warming…”

There have been many studies on the harmful effects of EMR on the immune system. The cells in the body communicate by using low-frequency electromagnetic signals, and exposure to electropollution throws this into chaos, resulting in disease. Sherrill Sellman is a certified electromagnetic radiation safety advisor (CERSA) and the author of several books including Hormone Heresy and Mothers, Prevent Your Daughters from Getting Breast Cancer. She says, “Even small hormonal fluctuations can create major physiological changes.”

Hormones regulate the body systems and the balance is very delicate. Hormone production is disrupted by stress, toxicity and low-quality food, among others things. Sellman notes, “There is one particular kind of hormone disruptor that has been seriously overlooked: electromagnetic radiation.” Sellman is concerned that women with breast cancer who are given Tamoxifen are never warned that the drug’s effects are lessened by EMR. This has been substantiated by a study reported in the journal, Bioelectromagnetics.

Sellman has done a lot of research into electropollution and is convinced that “continuous exposure to electromagnetic radiation can drastically distort and disrupt cellular communication pathways, resulting in abnormal cellular metabolism and ultimately, disease”.

Mobile phones

There has been a lot of discussion about the dangers of mobile phones over the past few years. For every study that finds health risks associated with mobile phone use, another is published finding no increased risk. Nevertheless, real concerns persist about this most ubiquitous of modern devices.

B. Blake Levitt, author of a book called Electrical Fields, notes that even using a cordless phone for short periods can increase hormone levels. The problem is related to the burst of power necessary to carry the signal between the phone and the base station, known as a “near-field plume”. Whenever the phone is activated, radiation emanates about 18 centimetres in all directions. The resulting radiation has been shown to damage DNA.

Studies have shown micronuclei (fragments of DNA with no physiological purpose) in the blood of people who use mobile phones regularly. Many mobile phone users report an increase in headaches. The head, of course, houses the glands that secrete the hormones that run the major body systems. Men who wear the phone strapped to their waist increase their chance of radiation waves affecting body organs in the pelvis and studies have shown a reduction in sperm count.

The mobile phone antenna emits an “information-carrying radio wave” (ICRW), which has a frequency that your cells perceive as a foreign invader. Throughout the time the cells are exposed to this wave, they are in lockdown mode, unable to rid themselves of toxins or take on vital nutrients. Of course, the longer the condition persists, the more likelihood there is of developing a disease such as cancer.

The body has its own electrical field, or energy force, that’s not compatible with EMR. Even if you don’t use a mobile phone, you are being exposed to dangerous radiation from all the radio waves that surround you. Three billion people worldwide use mobile phones. The effects are far reaching. Telstra has promised to provide coverage all over Australia, even in the bush.

Some years ago, there was a lot of controversy about mobile phones, but those concerns have been outweighed by the huge advantages these devices offer. Parents have even given mobile phones to their young children so they can be in touch with them at all times. We have become slaves to these very useful devices. Australia is a nation of 22 million people and there are 19 million mobile phones out there.

George Carlo MD PhD has written a book entitled Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age and is a leading expert on electropollution. He was commissioned by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association to lead 200 other scientists to research the potential harmful effects of mobile phones. After a five-year period, he presented his findings, which showed there were many harmful effects from mobile phones. He was then unceremoniously sacked and the information was suppressed.

Carlo found the information-carrying radio waves were responsible for a build-up of free radicals in body cells. He states, “Scientific studies continue to accumulate showing that information-carrying radio waves from mobile phones and other wireless devices, now used by 3 billion people worldwide, are dangerous.”


The hormone link

We know that some of our key hormonal systems are sensitive to electromagnetic radiation in the form of light. The pineal gland is regulated by light and responds to signals transmitted through the optic nerve. It is embedded deep in the brain and is associated with the mystical “third eye”. Although only the size of a pea, it’s a very important gland and a primary source of melatonin, a very efficient destroyer of free radicals and so a cancer suppressor. Melatonin enhances the immune system and promotes the tumour-fighting effect of vitamin D. It is produced approximately 90 minutes after you fall asleep and peaks in the middle of the night.

Consider, then, the shift worker, who has reduced amounts of melatonin due to sleep disruption. Oestrogen production is also increased in women who do shift work and this is directly linked to an increase in breast cancer. Sherrill Selman says, “Suppression of melatonin by the pineal gland has been suggested as a pathway for EMR’s deleterious effects on health.” She adds, “Melatonin not only inhibits the release of oestrogen but also actually suppresses the development of breast cancer.”

Dr Masami Ishido at Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Studies has shown that, even at reduced levels, EMR can have a serious effect on breast tissue due to a lack of melatonin. His research also showed that reduced melatonin levels from EMR could cause cancers of the breast, colon and prostate as well as childhood leukemia. This means that just sleeping in a room with a digital alarm clock, computer, TV etc can suppress the production of melatonin and increase the possibility of developing certain cancers.

Dr Patricia Coogan at Boston University showed that women working with computers have an increased risk of developing breast cancer due to an occupational exposure to magnetic fields, such as those surrounding mainframe computers. The increased incidence of breast cancer has been directly related to suppression of melatonin production by EMR.

Physiologist Dr Charles Graham did testing in 2001 showing that oestrogen levels increased in women who were exposed to certain levels of EMR overnight. His testing showed that all electrical equipment has a surge of power when switched on. This is known as an “electrical transient”. You can even be affected by someone in the neighbourhood switching on their air-conditioner, as these power surges carry a long way.


Protect yourself

While mobile phones and computers, among other things, have enriched our lives and provided a cheap means of communication to unite the world, there seems to be a huge price to pay for the technological advances. We need to understand the risks and minimise them by turning off all appliances at the wall when not in use, as equipment on standby still emits radiation. Computer and mobile phone usage needs to be kept to a minimum. Just because we cannot see anything does not mean there’s no danger.

Scientists are working on technology that will reduce exposure to EMR, such as noise-field technology that can prevent damage to cell membranes. Humans are very resourceful and problems can become opportunities for improvement. A good diet and vitamin supplements can also be of great assistance.

Reducing your exposure to electropollution will not only be good for your health; it will also mean a reduction in your carbon footprint and therefore in global warming. It’s as if the world is really trying to tell us something — but will we listen?


Reduce the buzz

These seven easy steps will help limit the amount of electropollution you are exposed to:

  • Place your bed as far away from power sources as possible.
  • Use an earpiece for your mobile phone where possible.
  • If you use your phone in the car, install a hands-free unit.
  • Make sure your cordless phone base station is not in your bedroom or close to where you sit often.
  • When finished with them, switch off appliances at the wall.
  • Don’t keep a clock radio close by your bed.
  • Place your computer monitor about two feet or more away from you.
  • Increase the text size on the screen so you can read it from further away.
  • Gloria Burley is a retired nurse. She is about to publish her first book Blood and Guts — Life in the Operating Theatre. W:


The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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